Unsettled Borders: The Militarized Science of Surveillance on Sacred Indigenous Land

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by Felicity Amaya Schaeffer

Duke University Press

8/29/2022, paperback

SKU: 9781478017943


The story of how the U.S.-Mexico border has become more dangerous for migrant crossing has preoccupied scholars across a range of fields. As necessary as this has been, the overwhelming focus on border crossers has eclipsed the consequences of military occupation on Native tribes whose land and bodies spill across the border, including mounting numbers of Maya refugees. Unsettled Borders follows the science and technological development of border surveillance back to military innovations tasked with seeing the invisible movements of Apache and Chiricahua warriors across the rugged terrain of the western frontier.

Felicity Amaya Schaeffer follows a range of militarized surveillance innovations across time and space, recalling the Spanish lookout points erected to monitor Maya in the Yucatan, the superior eyes of Indian scouts, automated border avatars, and swarming bee drones. From the perspective of Native border inhabitants, a broader story emerges about how mechanized seeing attempts to eradicate Native sacred and animate relation with land.

With an eye on the more-than-human world, Apache, O'odham and Maya teach us about the impossibility of borders in their sacred scientific worldviews that see relation where westerners impose segregated seeing and knowing. Unsettled Borders returns to ancestral practices-from beekeepers caring for the Melipona bees who bring back their forests to O'odham relations with saguaro peoplehood amputated by border walls. The border comes alive with a resurgent force of Native land defenders who refuse extraction, occupation, and surveillance by the futile attempts to build virtual and iron-cast walls that will ultimately fail to contain life and erect borders around the world.


"In this innovative and transformative book, Felicity Amaya Schaeffer locates Indigenous studies within border studies in ways that are both timely and refreshing. By holding the complexities of indigeneity as the land-based practices, knowledges, and identities of those detained, policed, and displaced by borders, she offers a truly exciting reframing of conversations that are only too relevant to the new present of the United States and its dependence on technology, control, and borders." -- Jodi A. Byrd, author of The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism

"Offering key insights into our current moment's militarized border zones, Felicity Amaya Schaeffer uncovers the multilayered structures of border control, where new technologies are utilized as nefarious forms of surveillance. Her attention to the power of theoretical language, Native histories, and the embodied experience of Indigeneity points to the powerful acts of resistance that are embedded in local struggles over representation and territory. Articulating an anticolonial vision of the border that decries the profound consequences of occupation and dispossession, Schaefer shows why frontier history matters." -- Macarena Gómez-Barris, author of The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives and Beyond the Pink Tide

About the Author:

Felicity Amaya Schaeffer is Professor of Feminist Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Love and Empire: Cybermarriage and Citizenship across the Americas, and coeditor of Precarity and Belonging: Labor, Migration, and Noncitizenship.