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The TSA issued an apology this week after one of the agency’s employees grabbed a Native American woman’s braids and said “giddyup.”
Tara Houska, who was traveling through the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday, says the incident began when a TSA agent stated that he needed to pat down her braided hair.
It was then that the agent proceeded to pull Houska’s braids behind her shoulders, snap them like reins on a horse, and shout “giddyup” while laughing.
Houska, an attorney who has also given a TED Talk on the fight for indigenous rights, recounted the incident on Twitter shortly after.
“My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman,” Houska said. “I am angry, humiliated. Your ‘fun’ hurt.”
Going through @TSA at @mspairport, the agent said she needed to pat down my braids. She pulled them behind my shoulders, laughed & said “giddyup!” as she snapped my braids like reins.— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) January 13, 2020
My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated. Your “fun” hurt.
Houska added that the agent attempted to defend the incident as light-hearted fun when confronted.
“When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me, she said ‘Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely,'” Houska recalled.
When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me, she said “Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely.” <— that is NOT an apology and it is NOT okay.— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) January 13, 2020
The TSA investigated the incident the following day and confirmed that Houska’s account was accurate.
“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” a statement from the agency said.
Cliff Van Leuven, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Minnesota, personally apologized for the encounter and sent out a company email noting that Houska wanted the agent to become educated about Native Americans as opposed to facing disciplinary action.
Houska appeared pleased with the outcome, stating in a tweet on Tuesday that a “good resolution” came “from a bad situation.”
“We need more education & empathy for one another,” Houska said.
Miigwech for uplifting this @kare11 & miigwech @TSA for being responsive & professional. My braids are not reins, I should be treated with dignity, as should everyone else.— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) January 15, 2020
Good resolution from a bad situation. We need more education & empathy for one another. #TeachingMoment https://t.co/uFRMvqtSY7
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Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.