Officials with the Transportation Security Agency issued an apology this week after a Native American woman said she was humiliated by an agent during a pat-down Monday at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Ojibwe activist Tara Houska, an Indigenous rights attorney from northern Minnesota, detailed the incident in a Twitter post Monday, the Duluth News Tribune reported. She said a TSA agent told her that she needed to pat down Houska's braids while Houska was going through security at the airport.
"She pulled them behind my shoulders, laughed & said 'giddyup!' as she snapped my braids like reins," Houska wrote. "My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated."
Houska said she confronted the agent who pulled her braids, saying she felt dehumanized and disrespected.
"She said, 'Well it was just in fun, I'm sorry. Your hair is lovely,'" Houska said. "That is NOT an apology and it is NOT okay."
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
In an email sent Tuesday to employees, the federal security director of TSA for Minnesota said a mistake was made and that the agency would "learn from this," KARE reported. Cliff Van Leuven said in the email that he apologized to Houska.
"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," Van Leuven said, according to KARE.
In a Twitter post Tuesday, Houska thanked TSA officials for their response, calling the apology and the effort to keep such incidents from happening again "a good resolution from a bad situation."
"We need more education & empathy for one another," she said.
Hair pat-downs are not unusual during the TSA screen process. Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for TSA, told The Los Angeles Times the pat-downs often occur in instances when the full-body scanners used by the agency sense something "anomalous to a standard human form." ProPublica noted in a report last year that the scanners "are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color."
Burke told the Times that TSA officials are looking into new technologies to improve the screening process.
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