Racism Or Protecting Customers From COVID-19 In Great Falls?

This morning I received several ‘heads up’ messages concerning a Facebook post from Sharen Kickingwoman about an incident at the Great Falls Wingate by Wyndham Hotel.

Here is the part of the post which outlines the incident:

‘My mom booked his room at the Wingate Hotel here in Great Falls. When he arrived and checked in with his ID, the worker told him “we don’t serve people from Browning”. When pushed further as to why, she said it was their policy “because of Covid”…

…I asked the new hotel clerk if they served Natives and specifically people from Browning and she was so confused because she was like “of course we do, but lots of people keep calling and asking me that, do you know why?” So this has obviously been happening for some time.So if you’re in Great Falls, or honestly anywhere, don’t support Wingate Hotels! They are completely fine with racist policies that target Native folks.’

You can read Kickingwoman’s entire post here.

After reading it a couple of times I shared the post along with my own comment and reaction:

“I am at a loss for words after reading this. In fact I am shocked and angry. I will be asking some very serious questions and making some pointed inquiries.

To my Native American brothers and sisters: speaking as a community leader I can assure you that if this is as it appears to be it will not be ignored or swept under the rug. We are better than this, Great Falls. We have to be.”

Just a little while ago, Wednesday afternoon, I had a lengthy conversation with Larry Gooldy, the General Manager of the hotel and asked him to provide a statement with their side of the story. He did so promptly and here is the statement in full:

“The incident with Kickingwoman started when I saw the reservation pop up during my afternoon front desk shift. I let my afternoon employee know that we may have a stay at home notice for one of her reservations and to let me know if she had any problem.

Guest checked in at 5:12p local time and presented a Browning ID for residence. At that time my front desk employee advised that the area Kickingwoman was from was under a lock down from the Blackfeet Nation( https://blackfeetnation.com/covid19/ ) ( https://www.krtv.com/news/coronavirus/stay-at-home-order-extended-again-on-the-blackfeet-reservation )and they would not be able to stay without a Doctors note for medical procedure or travel notice as indicated for reasons to travel.

The guest was unaware and had no note with them and had a note sent to the front desk. So my employee let me know and I advised ok to stay and I would follow up in the morning with the guest when I came in on the note.

The guest stayed and checked into room 119. The guest had a pet that they wanted to stay in hotel as well and was advised of service animal only property. Guest stated that he should be allowed to have the pet stay with him due the fact he is a veteran. My desk employee advised that would not be possible. They stated they would leave dog in car overnight.

Later the guest came back to front desk and began to call the my employee a racist for not letting people from Browning stay, even though we checked said guest and was allowing them to stay since they provided paperwork for the doctor.

The guest was advised of stay at home order issued by Blackfeet nation tribal council again and presented copy of Stay at home order from the nation’s website. The said guest decided to leave under their own accord. We did not ask, or force said guest to leave the hotel.

The guests then left the hotel.

Following Heath department guides to prevent the spread of COVID 19 the hotel has a policy for the protection of all guests that occupy a room, that it is safe and free of contamination spread. Guests that present a health risk/safe risk to guests or employees in the hotel would not be allowed to stay. I.e Quarantine, Stay at home, Lockdown, or indicate they are sick/Symptomatic.

In a side note while doing an interview this morning with Nora Mabie at the hotel, we had two Native American ladies with us that checked in yesterday from a different area not under a Quarantine restriction. They got breakfast from the front desk and returned to the room to eat. When asking Nora if should could account for the validity of a racist hotel claim when I have two ladies walking before you, that have just stayed in our hotel on the same day of this claim. She would not comment.”

Mr. Gooldy also informed me in our conversation that the hotel reservation was made through an online travel site and that site, as well as all of Wingate by Wyndham’s web sites, carry an explicit disclaimer informing customers to personally check with the hotel and inquire about local COVID-19 restrictions.

To be fair, it appears that the Kickingwoman family did not check with the Great Falls Wingate Hotel to ask about specific COVID restrictions prior to checking in.

So was this incident an example of racism, or a common sense health precaution? Readers can make up their own minds.

My takeaway is that we all need to do a better job of informing ourselves and communicating clearly in these confusing times.

Posted by Rick Tryon

Rick Tryon is an entrepreneur, a singer-songwriter, and is currently serving a four year term as a Great Falls City Commissioner. Helping Montana become an even greater place to live, play and work is Tryon's passion.

Reader interactions

One Reply to “Racism Or Protecting Customers From COVID-19 In Great Falls?”

  1. Gregory Bonilla November 1, 2020 at 9:51 AM

    So many questions arise from this article. What “local COVID-19 restrictions” are at issue? Why is the Wingate concerned with Tribal law which has no applucation off the Blackfeet Reservation? Is the Wingate charged with enforcing Tribal law? How? Since when? Is the Wingate aware that Tribal members are allowed to travel with or without the Wingate’s approval? What problem exactly was the Wingate trying to head off? Did the Wingate have some indication that Kickingwoman had been exposed to COVID-19? If so, how did THAT happen? I seriously doubt there are good answers to any of these questions.


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