Hotel Owners Forced to Accept Racism Penalties

Thom Weidlich 01.04.24


Here’s a cautionary tale about how bad things can get if a firm is caught up in a major crisis arising from racial bias. Under an agreement with the U.S. government, the ex-president is banned from the company, which had to issue an abject apology. Since the remediation is being imposed, it’s unclear how much it will help rebuild reputation.

The Uhre family’s company, the Retsel Corp., runs the Grand Gateway Hotel (pictured) and its Cheers Sports Lounge & Casino in Rapid City, South Dakota. Back in March 2022, the matriarch, Retsel President Connie Uhre, in a typo-littered Facebook post, wrote that the hotel and bar “will no long [sic] allow Native American on property.” She said this was “do [sic] to the killing that took place at the Grand Gateway Hotel on March 19 2022 at 4am plus all the vandalism we have had.”

In another post, she wrote, “I can not allow a Native American to enter our Business including Cheers, We can not tell who is a bad native or a Good native … untill the tribe can fix their people.” (Court papers include an email from Connie Uhre in which she wrote, “I really do not want to allow Natives on property.”)

NDN Collective

After the Facebook posts, the hotel, in two separate incidents, turned away Native Americans, including those from indigenous-rights group NDN Collective, who were told variously that it doesn’t rent rooms to locals and that it wasn’t taking any new guests.

This didn’t go over well. Protests and boycott campaigns ensued and the hotel shut down for a month. In October 2022, a jury convicted Connie Uhre of assaulting protestors. That same month, the federal government sued Retsel, Connie Uhre and Nicholas Uhre, her son and manager of the hotel and bar, for discrimination. (Other lawsuits, including one from the NDN Collective, pend.)

In November 2023 the family and the U.S. government reached a settlement (in which the defendants deny wrongdoing). The agreement called for the family to apologize in a letter distributed to tribes and the media and posted on the establishment’s website and Facebook page. The agreement included the full text of the apology.

Under the consent decree, Connie Uhre can’t be involved with Retsel, the hotel or bar for four years. The agreement includes other remedial measures, such as ordering the company to stop discriminating, to hire a compliance officer and to conduct anti-bias training. Clearly, the company should have been more proactive in confronting this situation; being forced to apologize by the U.S. government just isn’t that convincing.

Media Outlets

In mid-December, news stories began to appear about the apology being sent out because media outlets, such as The Dakota Scout, began receiving it.

The apology, signed by six family members, including Connie and Nicholas, said in part: “Ms. Uhre’s comments were not consistent with the values or polices of our company or of our businesses, the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge. We deeply regret the pain or harm Ms. Uhre’s statements have caused within our Native American community. We want to make clear that we welcome all Native Americans to the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge.”

The bottom line: Bad behavior and discrimination have consequences. Even though the company accepted its punishment, taking the situation this far will have lasting reputational effects. It’s wiser to think ahead and not let such incidents get out of control.

Photo Credit: Grand Gateway Hotel

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