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TSA apologizes after agent says ‘giddyup’ while pulling on a Native American woman’s braids

Tara Houska was going through security at the Minneapolis airport Monday when a strange thing happened.

A TSA agent told Houska she needed to pat down her braids. Houska complied, and that’s when things took a turn at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The agent pulled Houska’s braids behind her shoulders, laughed and said “giddyup!” — while snapping her hair like horse’s reins.

Houska, who posted about the incident on Twitter, said she was angry and humiliated, especially as a “Native woman.”

“My hair is part of my spirit,” she said. “Your ‘fun’ hurt.”

When Houska informed the agent that her actions were disrespectful, she said “Well, it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely,” according to Houska.

“That is NOT an apology and it is NOT okay,” Houska said on Twitter.

Comment was ‘insensitive,’ says TSA official

TSA officials investigated the incident Tuesday, according to a statement from the agency.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the statement read.

Cliff Van Leuven, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Minnesota, spoke with Houska and apologized for the agent’s actions and “insensitive” comment, according to the statement.

In an email to TSA employees at the airport, Van Leuven confirmed the incident happened exactly as described by Houska.

Houska didn’t want the agent to get in trouble, Van Leuven says in the email, though she’s hoping the staff is educated about the many Native American tribes and bands in Minnesota.

‘Good resolution from a bad situation,’ says Houska

Houska travels frequently for speaking engagements, and told Van Leuven in the past she hasn’t had any problems at the Minneapolis airport and that the staff is typically respectful.

“We all make mistakes,” Van Leuven wrote at the conclusion of the email. “Treating the public we are sworn to serve and protect with dignity and respect is our calling — every passenger, every day. We’ll learn from this …”

Houska thanked TSA in a tweet Tuesday for being professional, writing, “Good resolution from a bad situation. We need more education & empathy for one another.”

This particular incident aside, the TSA regularly conducts hair pat downs when necessary. If the hair alarms for a potential explosive or looks like it could contain a prohibited item, TSA will conduct a pat down, according to the agency’s website.

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