• Significant Impact: Contesting Surveillance Infrastructure on Indigenous Lands
    Caitlin Blanchfield, Ophelia Rivas, and Nina Valerie Kolowratnik
    Actar Publishers, 2025
    Caitlin Blanchfield, Nina Valerie Kolowratnik & Ophelia Rivas

Nina Valerie Kolowratnik, “Tak’Va’Vak Mountain Range, Tohono O’odham Nation,” 2015. Digital photograph. Courtesy Nina Valerie Kolowratnik

This publication brings together critical mappings, essays, and a counter environmental assessment to document and describe the effects of surveillance infrastructure on the Tohono O’odham Nation—a Native American reservation on the United States-Mexico border. Through spatial analysis, oral history-based writing, and critical essays, the book advocates against militarized infrastructures on Indigenous lands and challenges common protocols of environmental review, along with the Western frameworks of scientific classification and property embedded in them. The project makes visible the impact of surveillance when considered through Indigenous sovereignty and an O’odham epistemology of land. It offers a visual language that is sensitive to secrecy protocols within traditional knowledge and that challenges the colonial biases of Western cartography. Through contributed essays, it situates current surveillance infrastructure projects on the Tohono O’odham Nation within a longer history of border militarization and reflects on the role of environmental review within the politics of protection in Indigenous lands.

Caitlin Blanchfield is an architectural historian whose work examines the infrastructures of settler colonialism and material practices of resistance. Her research addresses the role of modernist land management and design practices in projects of dispossession and colonization in North America and the Pacific, and the anticolonial architectures that unsettle them. Blanchfield is a visiting lecturer at Cornell University and PhD candidate at Columbia University. She is a founding editor of the Avery Review, her coauthored book Modern Management Methods: Architecture, Historical Value, and the Electromagnetic Image was published by Columbia University Press in 2019. Her work has been supported by the New York State Council for the Arts, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. She holds a master’s in Critical Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in history from Oberlin College.

Nina Valerie Kolowratnik is an architect, PhD candidate in law at the Human Rights Center of Ghent University in Belgium, and an associated researcher at Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador. Her dissertation focuses on Indigenous peoples’ knowledge in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the impact of its evidentiary regime on access to justice and knowledge representation. She’s the author of the book The Language of Secret Proof: Indigenous Truth and Representation (Sternberg Press, 2019). Recently Kolowratnik’s work has been shown at Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York; Rotor Center for Contemporary Art, Graz; and Stacion Center for Contemporary Art, Prishtina, Budapest. Her research has been supported by the Architectural League of New York and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts, among others. Kolowratnik holds a master’s degree in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture from Columbia University, and an undergraduate and master’s degrees in architecture from Graz University of Technology.

Ophelia Rivas is a Tohono O’odham tribal member, tribal elder, and activist. She is founder of O’odham VOICE Against the WALL, an activist group that opposes the militarization of Tohono O’odham lands in both the United States and Mexico and the restrictions for tribal members to access Tohono O’odham ancestral homeland that spans the US-Mexico border. She was the editor of the blog the O’Odham Solidarity Project and a founder of the Rights Cultural and Environmental Justice Coalition. She has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences on indigenous rights and environmental justice. Recent interviews with Rivas have been published in The Intercept, YES Magazine, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, Intercontinental Cry, The Native Press, The Progressive, NACLA, Arizona Daily Star, The Nation, and Al Jazeera, among others.