By Nicole Chavez and Tiffany Anthony, CNN
A hotel in south dakota is accused of refusing to rent a room to at least two Native women after its landlord allegedly threatened to bar all Native Americans from the property.
the NDN Collective, an indigenous rights group in South Dakota, and Sunny Red Bear, the group’s director of racial equity, filed a class action lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming they were racially discriminated against when they were denied bookings at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City this week.
The alleged incident was “part of a policy, pattern or practice of intentional racial discrimination against Native Americans,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western Division of the District of South Dakota against the hotel, a sports bar located on the property, and its parent company, the Retsel Corporation. Connie and Nicholas Uhre, who are also named in the lawsuit, are directors of Retsel Corporation, according to company documents filed with the South Dakota Secretary of State.
When Sunny Red Bear and another Native American woman arrived at the hotel on Monday, a front desk employee claimed the hotel did not rent rooms to people with “local” identifications, the lawsuit says. The next day, according to the lawsuit, a hotel employee refused to reserve five rooms for representatives of the NDN Collective, claiming that the hotel was unable to rent the available rooms to the group due to “problems” not specified.
CNN has reached out to the hotel, the sports bar, their parent company and the Uhres for comment.
Brendan Johnson, an attorney representing Red Bear and the group, said his clients wanted to confirm whether the hotel “actually excludes Native Americans,” following reports Connie Uhre wrote in a Facebook comment that the hotel would no longer allow Native Americans. on the property, according to the lawsuit.
“To be clear, we didn’t file this lawsuit to send a message — we filed a lawsuit because we want justice,” Johnson said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
According to a Facebook screenshot that has been circulating online since Sunday and was reported by the Rapid City Journal, Connie Uhre says the decision to deny entry was made after a shooting took place at the hotel last weekend and in light of previous incidents of ‘vandalism’.
The Rapid City Police Department said a 19-year-old Native American was arrested in connection with a reported shooting in a hotel room early Saturday morning that left one person injured.
CNN has not independently confirmed the comments posted by Uhre. Steve Allender, the mayor of Rapid City, told CNN he saw Uhre’s comments on his personal Facebook page under a post related to homelessness after several people alerted him. He took a screenshot and tweeted saying that neither the shooting nor Uhre’s comments reflected community values.
Before the trial, the comments allegedly made by Uhre were widely criticized in Rapid City by local officials, activists and tribal leaders.
The “racist and hateful” comments “expressed by a few individuals only serve to reinforce long-standing feelings of distrust and threaten the Rapid City community’s relationship with its Native American residents and visitors,” Allender said Tuesday in a joint statement with several county and city officials.
Kevin Killer, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribesaid members of the tribe had been staying at the hotel for 40 years and demanded an immediate apology, in a statement posted on Facebook.
“It is important to remind people of our history and our place in this region. Moving beyond this type of thinking will help our communities collectively heal and chart a better path for future generations to work together,” Killer said in the release.
Earlier this week, Red Bear spoke in front of dozens of people who gathered in Rapid City to speak out against Uhre’s comments, saying she and the NDN collective will not allow the civil rights of Native Americans to be violated.
“As the native and indigenous people of Rapid City, sometimes we don’t recognize our power in our community, the power that we bring, the business that we bring to this community. We have the power to change and bring about change if we come together collectively,” Red Bear said.
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CNN’s Justin Gamble contributed to this report.