Native Group Wants Judge to Toss Hotel Casino’s Counterclaims in Racism Case

A Native American activist group has asked a federal judge in South Dakota to dismiss a hotel casino’s claims of trespass, nuisance, defamation, and civil conspiracy.

Connie Uhre sprays a protestor in the face in with Pledge in the parking lot of the Grand Gateway Hotel. (Image: NDN Collective)

The group, the NDN Collective, sued the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City and its owners, Connie and Nicholas Uhre, in March after they appeared to ban Native Americans from booking rooms and visiting its casino bar. That followed a fatal shooting in one of the hotel rooms. Both the shooter and victim were Native American.

NDN’s lawsuit accuses the hotel of racial discrimination. It wants the Uhres actions last March to be declared unlawful and seeks compensatory, general, and special damages.

But the Uhres countersued, arguing NDN had organized a conspiracy to trespass and to defame them. In the days following the apparent ban, several members of NDN Collective visited the hotel to try to book rooms to test whether it was real. They were denied.

Subsequently, the group protested in and around the hotel, calling for a boycott. During these one of these protests, Connie Uhre emptied a bottle of dust spray into one demonstrator’s face, according to NDN.

‘A Protest is Not a Nuisance’

In a motion to dismiss the counterclaims, lawyers for NDN argued that the group could not be trespassing at the hotel because it was a public place. In fact, the hotel’s claim that members of NDN cannot legally enter its property is further proof that it discriminates against Native Americans, they argue.

Meanwhile, the Uhres’ nuisance claim fails because “a protest is not a nuisance, nor does the Counterclaim adequately plead any legal duty or underlying unlawful act.”

“[The Uhres] are not victims here,” argued NDN’s lawyers. “They may not like that NDN is holding them accountable for their discrimination, but that disagreement does not transform legitimate First Amendment protest into actionable torts.”

Eviction Notice

News of the ban caused local Sioux tribal leaders to issue the Grand Gateway with an eviction notice.

Rapid City isn’t part of any of the tribes’ reservations, but they argued the hotel’s policy violated an 1868 treaty between the Sioux and the US government, which they believe is still valid.

The treaty states:

 …no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the [land north of the North Platte River or east of the summits of the Big Horn Mountains]; or without the consent of the Indians first had and obtained, to pass through the same.

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