'Giddy-up', said TSA agent pulling Native woman's braids

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tara Houska (right) protesting in Washington DC alongside actor Joaquin Phoenix

The US airports security agency has apologised to a Native American activist after an inspector pulled her hair and said "giddy-up".

Tara Houska was travelling through the Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport when the incident took place during a security screening.

"My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman," she wrote on Twitter, adding that she was "humiliated".

"My braids are not reins," she tweeted to her more than 30,000 followers.

Ms Houska, a prominent activist and lawyer, was returning from a climate march in Washington DC, where she protested alongside celebrities Jane Fonda and Joaquin Phoenix.

What exactly happened?

A member of the Ojibwe tribe, she wrote that a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent was checking her braids for weapons as she headed home to Bemidji in northern Minnesota.

But instead of simply conducting the standard check, "she pulled them behind my shoulders, laughed & said 'giddyup!' as she snapped my braids like reins" on a horse, she wrote.

"My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated. Your 'fun' hurt."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ms Houska (second left, front row) with actresses Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon at the climate change protest

"When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanise 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," she wrote.

In interviews, Ms Houska said she does not want the TSA agent fired, but instead hopes the agency will improve its sensitivity training.

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Writing for Indian Country Today in 2015, Ms Houska wrote: "Excepting slight trims, my hair will only be cut if a traumatic event occurs, such as the passing of a relative."

Hair styles are known to be culturally important to many Native American tribes. For the Ojibwe people, hair is considered to be medicine, according to Ojibwe elder Larry Moose.

How did the TSA respond?

TSA's federal security director for Minnesota, Cliff Van Leuven, spoke to Ms Houska and apologised on behalf of the inspector and the agency.

Mr Van Leuven acknowledged to staff that a "mistake" had been made and vowed to "learn from this".

"Did it actually happen? Yes. Exactly as described? Yes," he wrote in an internal email later released to local media.

Ms Houska tweeted that she pleased with the outcome.

"Good resolution from a bad situation. We need more education & empathy for one another," she said.