Whether or not an Indian can reserve a Missoula hotel room over the phone can come down to a name, say members of Missoula Indian People Action. If your name is Tucker, you probably won’t have a problem. If it’s Goodbear, the hotel could end up with no vacancies.
For months, Indian People’s Action has been documenting complaints from Indians who say that their reservations have been denied, canceled or lost after hotels learned their race.
“People would request reservations, and when they would go to claim them they would just magically disappear,” says I.P.A. member Eva Hendricks. “Or they’d go and try to get a room without a reservation and then the motel would be full and [the motel clerk] would call down the road and tell the other motels that a car full of Indians is looking for a room.”
Upon hearing the stories, Hendricks and fellow member Mona Kornec weren’t shocked. The women grew up in Missoula and know it’s a diverse and tolerant town, but also that there are a few who sour the spirit of open-mindedness.
“It’s been going on for quite a while,” says Kornec, “but nobody has said anything about it. I guess it still surprises me a little that it could happen in Missoula.”
In an effort to quell the problem, the group delivered letters supporting a policy of non-discrimination to 29 hotels and motels in Missoula. The response was underwhelming, says Hendricks. Only 12 of the 29 businesses signed.
“Some of them had corporate headquarters that wouldn’t allow it, some of them said the owner or manager wasn’t around,” says Hendricks. “Then follow-ups weren’t answered, and then some of them just flat-out refused.”
Hendricks won’t go into specifics about which hotels wouldn’t sign the letter, saying the information wouldn’t contribute to a solution.
Holiday Inn Parkside General Manager Jon Bernthal was approached with the letter a few weeks before June’s Western Governors’ Association Conference. Bernthal signed it without going through the corporate chain. He says the hotel has never discriminated in the past and isn’t about to start, so it made sense to sign the letter. But Bernthal was the exception.
Having mostly failed to convince hotels and motels, Indian People’s Action is working with Missoula City Council to pass a resolution stating that Missoula’s hospitality industry is devoted to non-discrimination. The group hopes to have enough council members on its side by August 18, when the resolution comes to a vote.
Hendricks knows that a resolution doesn’t carry much bite, but hopes that it can still count to the good.
“It will send a message, and more people will take notice and join the bandwagon,” says Hendricks. “Because Missoula is like that. If something goes wrong, people band together to fight it.”