Born in Culdesac, Idaho, to Fitch Phinney, Archie Phinney was five-eighths Nez Perce, but was also proud to claim William Craig as his great-grandfather. Craig (1807–69) was a fur trapper and the first permanent white settler in the region in 1840. A 1922 graduate of Culdesac High School, Phinney attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1926 and was the first Native American to graduate from the university. He later took graduate courses in anthropology at George Washington University, New York University, and Columbia University.
Phinney wrote the Nez Perce Texts, which are a collection of Nez Perce myths that he recorded from his mother, Mary Lily Phinney (Wayi'latpu). The text were written with alternating lines of English and Nez Perce followed by an English summary. The text was funded by the Committee on Research in Native American Languages, composed of Franz Boas of the anthropology department of Columbia University and Leonard Bloomfield and Edward Sapir of the anthropology department of the University of Chicago. The texts were compiled while Phinney was in Leningrad in 1933–37 where he was a researcher and lectured at the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad.
Upon returning to the U.S., Phinney worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a Field Agent at Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Denver, and Window Rock, Arizona. Phinney was a leading founder of the National Congress of American Indians, 1944.
He was the superintendent of the Northern Idaho Agency in Lapwai from 1944 until his death in 1949. Hospitalized in Lewiston for several days, he succumbed to a hemorrhage due to an ulcer on October 29 at age 45. He was buried at the Jacques Spur cemetery in Culdesac, alongside his parents and not far from his great-grandfather, William Craig.
A faculty office building at the University of Idaho in Moscow was named in his honor in the early 1980s. Originally the Chrisman Hall dormitory, it was later the Faculty Office Complex West. Its companion east building was named for author Carol Ryrie Brink at the same time.
- "Archie Phinney rites set for Wednesday". Lewiston Morning Tribune. October 31, 1949. p. 8.
- "Fitch Phinney taken, prominent Nez Perce". Lewiston Morning Tribune. September 27, 1947. p. 12.
- "William Craig". Find A Grave. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
- Rigby, Barry (July 3, 1990). "Archie Phinney was a champion of Indian rights". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 4-Centennial.
- "40 years ago". Lewiston Morning Tribune. May 7, 1962. p. 4.
- "20 years ago". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Oct 13, 1957. p. 4.
- "Archie Phinney quietly at rest at Jacques Spur". Lewiston Morning Tribune. November 3, 1949. p. 14.
- "Campus Buildings: P". University of Idaho Library. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
Cowger, Thomas W. 1999 The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Willard, William 2000 Reviewed Work(s): Nez Perce Texts by Archie Phinney. Wicazo Sa Review, Vol 15, No. 1 pp 236–241.
- 1950 Archie Phinney obituary. American Anthropologists 52:3, pp 442
- Find a Grave.com - Archie Phinney