The federal Transportation Security Administration has apologized to a Native American woman after an agent at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport checked her long braids, then snapped them like reins and said, “Giddy up!”
Tara Houska, an environmental and indigenous-rights attorney and activist, later tweeted: “My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated. Your ‘fun’ hurt.”
Houska, who is Ojibwe and lives in Minnesota, had her braids checked at the airport Monday en route home after participating in Jane Fonda’s weekly climate change protest in Washington, D.C.
“I was really offended,” Houska told the Star Tribune. I asked her if she was done with my hair, and she was still laughing. I went to pick up my bags and she was still laughing.”
Houska tweeted that when she confronted the “middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me,” she said it was “just in fun.”
Houska did not object to the pat-down of her braids, which happens frequently when she travels. “My issue is with her acting like I am a horse. I am a woman,” she told the Star Tribune.
The TSA said in a statement Tuesday that the incident was investigated and the agency’s Federal Security Director for Minnesota Cliff Van Leuven apologized to Houska for the agent’s “insensitive” actions and comment. “TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the statement added.
“Did it actually happen? Yes. Exactly as described? Yes,” Van Leuven told TSA employees in an email obtained by NBC affiliate KARE-TV. “I apologized for how she was treated during the screening of her braids. We had a very pleasant conversation. She reiterated that she doesn’t want the officer to get in trouble, but she is hoping we’ll take the chance to continue to educate our staff about the many Native American Tribes/Bands in our state and region to better understand their culture.” He added: “We’ll learn from this.”
Houska also said she hoped the staff would learn from the situation.
“Good resolution from a bad situation,” she tweeted after the apology. “We need more education & empathy for one another.” Houska told The Washington Post that the TSA invited her to speak to agents or help create a sensitivity training video on indigenous issues. She said she would accept the TSA’s offer.
She noted in a tweet Thursday: “I really, really hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else moving forward.”