MINNEAPOLIS -- The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday, Jan. 14, issued an apology to an Ojibwe activist with ties to the Bemidji area who said she was mistreated at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.
The woman, Tara Houska, is an Indigenous-rights attorney and environmental activist from northern Minnesota who has been vocal in her opposition to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. Houska described the Monday, Jan. 13, incident on Twitter, saying the agent grabbed her braids like reins during what was supposed to be a security check.
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.
During an interview after the incident, Houska said the interaction came about after the security scanner went off. She said her hair regularly activates security scanners.
Houska followed the initial tweet with several others. In one of the subsequent tweets, she said the TSA worker apologized, but that she -- Houska -- did not perceive the apology as authentic. Houska later clarified what she meant in the online comment.
"Yes you should apologize, but you should also understand why you're apologizing," Houska said in an interview. "I think it's far more important to actually learn something (from the situation) than to just to cover up for something."
The TSA reportedly investigated the situation. Cliff Van Leuven, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Minnesota, spoke with Houska and apologized for the situation, according to the Star Tribune.
The agency then issued a statement.
“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the statement said.
Houska said the TSA official who spoke to her after the incident was apologetic, and she said the agency took the situation and the complaint "very seriously." According to Houska, the TSA did not fire the employee who caused the situation. Houska also clarified that it was not her intention to get the employee fired by speaking up about it.
"The way that I personally felt about the situation was that I didn't want the employee to be fired because I didn't want that person to (be) bitter and then for no one to learn anything," Houska said in the interview. "I feel when it comes to empathy, people really lack that for each other, and that's not a good thing."
The incident gained widespread media coverage, being picked up by Minnesota-based outlets, but it also attracted attention across the country.
At the time, Houska was reportedly traveling to Bemidji from Washington, D.C. Houska said she was taking part in environmental activism with the actress Jane Fonda. Houska declined to give her town of residence, though she clarified she lives in northern Minnesota, which is why she was flying into Bemidji.
Houska was one of the activists who was present at the protest in August that resulted in Enbridge shutting down its Bemidji office for the day. She also was at the scene of a protest in Clearbrook, where authorities arrested a second woman for trespassing.