Welcome to the Walter H. Capps Center

There is no shortage of issues for the Walter H. Capps Center to address at this precarious moment. Like most of you, we feel disoriented. Just as one pressing need comes into view, another demand on our moral discernment changes our focus, blurring the horizon. While none of us can hope to keep up with each new crisis, times of foment challenge us to cultivate our ethical capacities of wayfinding. The ability to navigate, far more than doubling down on any one perspective or position, offers a way forward. This is where our work at the Capps Center takes hold. We aim to build on the legacies of Walter Capps, whose scholarly and political career inspired founding of the center, and Wade Clark Roof, who shaped it into a benchmarking-setting institution. In their spirit, the Capps Center will continue to be a place where students, scholars, and community members hone our navigational skills as we seek the good in public life. 

As incoming Director, I am honored to be stepping into a robust center that has established numerous avenues for fulfilling our mandate, including student fellowships and specialized courses, a successful internship program, various forums, and highly visible lecture series, among other activities. Our aim is to maintain and grow all of these initiatives in ways mindful of our current predicament, its constraints, and the new possibilities it has provoked. One way we are addressing programming challenges is through launching an online symposium series, enabling us to bring more voices into our conversations. This in turn allows for sustained engagement with a specific theme over the course of the year. This year we are initiating the series with a focus on Indigenous peoples and democracy. Entitled Ethics in Place, it will feature a number of influential and compelling guests who will address Indigenous place-based ethics from a variety of perspectives. Please see our symposium page for a description of the theme and a list of Fall events. Spring and Winter speakers will be posted soon. Also this Fall, we are eager to have you join us for two student panels on the presidential election, one before and one after election day. Please see our events page for details.

Along with everyone else, we are busy reinventing aspects of how we do our work. Bear with us as we make our way and please reach out if you have ideas or requests. We’d love to hear from you. When conditions allow, we will be delighted to welcome you back. For my part, my family and I came to Santa Barbara, UCSB, and the Capps Center because we are drawn to the community and its ethos of engagement. You can be sure that we will ramp up occasions to be and think together just as soon as possible. 


Greg Johnson



Continuing the Conversation

Dear Capps Community, 


Many thanks to those of you who have been attending our recent events. I’m delighted that our events have been catalyzing conversations in Santa Barbara and beyond.  Once such conversation concerns our most recent event on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP 2010).  You can find a video of the event here. One of our guests from last week’s event has added to this rich discussion with the following observations.  We are pleased to share thoughts of Justice Gregory Bigler (Euchee), a ceremonial person, Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court Judge, and Harvard Law graduate:

1. UNDRIP is moral authority, not binding law. That is, there is no legal consequences to violations such as if it were a treaty. That, however, can be a powerful tool. Though there are legal prohibitions on torture, perhaps more strong is the international moral repugnance with which torture is viewed such that no nation willingly admits to torturing, even if they practice it. What we are striving for is for universal recognition of our Indigenous rights such that no nation wishes to be found in violation of the UNDRIP.

2. Within the US we, remarkably few of us, are beginning to work towards implementation, the very beginning phase. We need to educate our own people, disseminating information, building coalitions. We need to broaden the effort.

3. This is a long term process, maybe 30 years from start to possible full recognition. Seems like a long time to achieve this, but we intend to be here in 30 years so why not start now? And if young natives are looking for a cause or mechanism to create a change, this is it. When I was young, I thought law and court cases were the means. But, this is the long term means by which true change can occur.

4. This is an Indigenous process and mechanism. My stories illustrate tribal values are Human Rights values, even in DRIP.

4.A. The modern era of Indigenous H.R. started with traditional Muscogee, Hopi & Six Nation leaders literally leading the way into the U.N. Halls in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977. Phillip Deere, Mvskoke medicine man for Nuyaka stompgrounds was one of those three.

5. The Muscogee translation of the DRIP came about through my using traditional relationships to gain support and input for the project, and involved ceremonial people.

6. This can occur locally. We do not have to go to the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland or in New York City for this work to be done. It can and must happen at the tribal, local, state and national level. Education and advocacy can happen at each level and must happen to effect change. 

UNDRIP creates international norms, but:
A. We must pull norms from the U.N. down to the US federal law
B. And, must push up from Tribe to U.S. law.

This creates a two-fold process: injecting international standards, and tribal perspectives into federal processes.

7. This DRIP process can help us understand our own traditional values, stories and law by giving us a comparison point and helping us to explore our law in our own terms. Instead of us comparing our laws to US law and processes we can compare to International Human Rights.


3001 Humanities and Social Sciences Building
University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106
[Telephone ] 805-893-2317  www.cappscenter.ucsb. edu