South Dakota leaders condemn hotel owner's racist comments

On Friday, U.S. Dusty Johnson called hotel owner's comments "repugnant," while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith said the remarks were a reminder of the challenges faced by Native Americans in the state.

Rapid City (1).jpg
Rapid City.
Mitchell Republic file photo

RAPID CITY, S.D. — South Dakota political leaders are condemning the remarks of a Rapid City hotelier who days earlier posted to social media she planned to keep Native Americans from staying at her hotel.

In an email to Forum News Service, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson shared a statement from Johnson calling the comments "repugnant."

"It's unconstitutional, unacceptable, and immoral to deny someone service because of their race," Johnson said in the statement.

In her social media post on Sunday, March 20, Grand Gateway Hotel Connie Uhre said she would disallow Native Americans from renting rooms at the hotel or patronizing the adjacent bar. Following a weekend shooting, she said, she couldn't tell "who is a bad Native or a good Native."

While Uhre's post was deleted, a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Sunny Red Bear and NDN Collective on Wednesday, March 23, alleges hotel staff refused to rent rooms to Indigenous customers earlier in the week.


According to The Rapid City Journal , Uhre's son and business partner, Nicholas Uhre, wrote to Gov. Kristi Noem requesting she somehow remove Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender from office for first sharing Connie Uhre's remarks on Twitter .

House Minority Leader and Democratic candidate for governor, Rep. Jamie Smith, of Sioux Falls, released a statement that, in part, called out Noem for not being more vocal about the Rapid City businesswoman's racist remarks.

"The hotel owners' response to this attack, and the lack of response from our governor, highlights the challenges our Native American citizens face everyday," Smith said.

As of Friday, March 25, Noem had commented on a range of local topics on her social media accounts the past few days — from the Black Hills State University basketball team's trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs to National Ag Appreciation Day . But she had yet to use her social media accounts to comment on the outcry over the Grand Gateway Hotel owner's comments.

In an email to FNS on Friday, Noem's spokesman, Ian Fury, repeated a message first sent to the Rapid City Journal.

"The governor is opposed to all racial discrimination," Fury said. "[T]here is no room for racial discrimination in South Dakota."

Fury added that, given the federal lawsuit against Grand Gateway's ownership group, Noem would not comment further.

Sen. John Thune also released a statement to Forum News Service saying, "Racial discrimination of any kind has no place in South Dakota."


Aberdeen attorney Brian Bengs — a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate against Thune — called the proprietor's remarks a "tragedy for our society," noting they arrive amid calls to ban racial discussions in schools.

A "special meeting" will be Saturday, March 26, by the Great Sioux Nation Tribal Chairman's Association, followed by a news conference and a rally.

The state's biggest political leaders have touted inbound migration, so-called "blue state refugees" who flooded South Dakota. But the biggest driver of partisan races this coming summer and fall appears to be a redistricting process, log-jamming Republicans in primaries and opening up new turf for Democrats.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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