Peter d’Errico’s research and writing on Indigenous Peoples' legal issues focuses on self-determination and territorial integrity in the face of nation-state colonial doctrines of "discovery," "terra nullius," and "trusteeship." He takes a critical approach to U.S. "federal Indian law"—a device to dominate Native Peoples by denying their full sovereignty.
D’Errico was introduced to indigenous legal issues in 1968, as an attorney in the Shiprock office of Dinébe’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii—Navajo Legal Services. He represented individual clients and worked on special projects, including a juvenile code integrating U.S. due process standards with traditional Navajo clan practices, and a class action lawsuit against car dealers who exploited Navajo customers.
When d’Errico began teaching at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, he developed a curriculum on global indigenous legal issues, and courses on critical legal theory from an indigenous perspective. D’Errico helped develop the Legal Studies Department and was its first Director. He is coauthor of Before the Law: An Introduction to the Legal Process (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006 [8th edition]), and author of essays, articles, and encyclopedia entries on Indigenous Peoples legal issues.
D’Errico has also been active in litigation. In one case, he represented members of a Native American Spiritual Awareness Council—a group of inmates in a Massachusetts prison—to defend and expand their freedom of religion. The case, Trapp, et. al v. DuBois, et. al., concluded, after 10 years of litigation, in a court-ordered agreement with the Department of Corrections to protect Native spiritual practices.
In another case, d’Errico represented two Wampanoag men charged with violating a local shellfishing ordinance. The case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Michael J. Maxim and David S. Greene, resulted in unanimous decisions of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court upholding Wampanoag fishing rights.
Elsewhere, d’Errico worked with the Western Shoshone National Council in a variety of legal contexts, including federal and state court litigation in Nevada, and petitions to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Organization of American States, and other international bodies.
His columns appear regularly on Indian Country Media Network.
D’Errico was born in West Virginia; and has lived in West Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Louisiana, North Dakota, Maine, Connecticut and New Mexico. He received his A.B. in Philosophy from Bates College in 1965 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1968. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Legal Studies, University of Massachusetts/Amherst; an inactive member of the New Mexico Bar; and chair of the Leverett, Massachusetts SelectBoard (town government).
D’Erricos noted columns on ICMN are as follows: