Minnesota TSA agent snapped Native American woman's braids, said 'giddyup!'

"My braids are not reins, I should be treated with dignity, as should everyone else," Tara Houska wrote on Twitter.
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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A TSA agent whipped the braids of a Native American woman and yelled "Giddyup" during a security check at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to the woman and the federal Transportation Security Administration.

"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 wrote on Twitter on Monday.

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

Cliff Van Leuven, the TSA's federal security director in Minnesota, confirmed in an email sent to TSA employees at the airport that the incident happened Monday.

"In the news last night and today you’ve likely seen - or heard - of a TSA Officer at MSP who was insensitive in screening the long braided hair of a Native American passenger Monday morning. Did it actually happen? Yes. Exactly as described? Yes," said the email, which was shared with NBC News.

Van Leuven said he reached out to Houska and apologized. He said their conversation was pleasant, and Houska said she didn't want the employee to be disciplined, but that "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 said Houska told him she was "surprised" by the situation, because she often travels for speaking engagements and TSA agents in Minnesota have always been "good at being respectful and recognizing sacred/religious items, Tribal IDs, etc."

"We all make mistakes," Van Leuven concluded. "We'll learn from this."

A statement from the TSA said the agency "holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously.”

Houska, who is a cofounder of Not Your Mascots, a nonprofit that fights against stereotypical native representations in sports, thanked the TSA on Tuesday for being "responsive and professional."

"My braids are not reins, I should be treated with dignity, as should everyone else," Houska wrote on Twitter. "Good resolution from a bad situation. We need more education and empathy for one another."