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AG Garland points to hotel case as commitment to Native American civil rights

US Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Thursday
US Department of the Interior
US Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Thursday

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is reiterating the Justice Department’s commitment to civil rights cases for Native Americans.

Garland pointed to the case announced earlier this year involving the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City. One local group wants the DOJ to do more.

The Justice Department announced its lawsuit against the hotel in October. That came several months after the owner posted on social media that Native Americans were no longer allowed at their hotel and bar. Days after, some natives were allegedly denied service.

Speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, Garland said protecting the civil rights of all individuals was a founding purpose of the department.

“It remains an urgent priority,” Garland said. “For example, earlier this fall the Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of a hotel and bar in South Dakota for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Native American customers. The justice Department is working to make good on our commitment to improve the well-being of tribal communities.”

The president of group that initially brought the lawsuit said he appreciates the DOJ looking into racist activity in Rapid City.

However, NDN Collective’s Nick Tilsen said the department is not willing to look deeper into systemic racism.

“We asked them to expand the scope of their investigation because we understand the behaviors of the Grand Gateway Hotel are a byproduct of a culture of systematic racism here in the community," Tilsen said. "Taking down Grand Gateway—or holding them accountable—is not going to be the end all for us.”

Tilsen also said NDN Collective and others are asking the DOJ to pardon country’s longest-serving indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.