PENDLETON — Amidst reports from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation about anti-tribal discrimination, the Red Lion Hotel in Pendleton is responding to the controversy.
Shortly after the Oregon Health Authority announced March 2 that a Umatilla County resident and Wildhorse Resort & Casino employee had a presumptive case of coronavirus, Red Lion posted a sign at its entrance.
“Due to the recent Coronavirus scare at the Wildhorse Casino & Resort, we are unable to accept guests and/or reservations that have been previously at the Resort until further notice. Sorry for any inconvenience,” the sign stated.
Speaking generally, CTUIR spokesman Chuck Sams pointed out the irony of connecting the tribes with COVID-19.
In this case, Sams noted how other’s fears of coronavirus seemed to forget American Indian’s own histories with the spread of diseases, which played a significant role in killing an estimated 90% of North American indigenous populations during white European settlement.
“If there’s anybody that’s been devastated by diseases, it’s been the tribes,” he said.
Sams said the tribes were in contact with Red Lion after discovering the sign, which the hotel eventually took down. He didn’t characterize Red Lion’s response as an apology but said its reply stressed the sign was “strictly precautionary” and “wasn’t intended to be discriminatory.” He said the hotel indicated it will be following federal guidelines moving forward.
Carol Welch, the Red Lion assistant manager of operations, said the sign was never meant to be interpreted to be discriminatory toward tribal members or Umatilla Indian Reservation residents.
According to Welch, she was at the DMV when she learned that there might be a coronavirus case connected to the Wildhorse Resort & Casino.
Once she confirmed with Wildhorse it would close for cleaning, she contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about immediate measures the hotel could take.
Welch said officials at the CDC told her it wouldn’t be discriminatory to refuse guests from Wildhorse until the hotel got more information about the COVID-19 case in Umatilla County.
She said the sign was posted Monday afternoon and removed Tuesday night once the hotel felt like it had enough information to accept all guests. Wildhorse reopened after two days of cleaning.
Welch said she didn’t write the sign personally, but if she could change one thing about it, she would have clarified that it was “hotel guests” that they weren’t accepting.
Red Lion had no intention of barring tribal members, reservation residents, or employees, adding two Red Lion employees also work at Wildhorse and worked shifts at Red Lion while Wildhorse was being cleaned.
Welch said Red Lion and Wildhorse normally have a good relationship, recommending overflow guests to each other on a regular basis.
She said she intends to reach out to tribal leaders to clarify the incident.