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Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA)

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State Representatives Keeler, Kozlowski, and Becker-Finn during House debate on MIFPA

Minnesota Representative Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead, standing at right) speaks about MIFPA on the floor of the Minnesota House on March 9, 2023. Representatives Alicia Kozlowski (DFL-Duluth, standing at center) and Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville, standing at left) listen. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer. Used with the permission of Michelle Griffith.

In 1985, Minnesota state legislators passed the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA) to address shortcomings in the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The federal law had been enacted in 1978 in response to the alarming number of Native American children being removed from their families and placed in non-Native foster and adoptive homes. MIFPA gave Minnesota tribes more authority in all child custody decisions involving Native children.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, between 25 and 35 percent of all Native children were separated from their families, resulting in a generation of Native people disconnected from their cultures. A long history of federal assimilation efforts had laid the groundwork for these removals.

In the late nineteenth century, the US government created and ran boarding schools that stripped Native children of their identities. Nearly a century later, in 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America launched the Indian Adoption Project to promote the adoption of Native children. There was a growing demand for adoptive children after World War II, when the economy was booming. But Native people were facing the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes of any minority group at that time, among other hardships. Poorly trained social workers often deemed Native homes unsuitable, removing scores of children from their families. Meanwhile, as the number of Native children in foster care swelled, state governments began looking for ways to shift the cost of caring for them to the private sector.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) sought to put an end to these practices by establishing procedures and policies for child placements and ensuring tribal involvement in the process. When ICWA was passed, Minnesota led the nation in the removal of Native children from their families, a fact that was harshly criticized by ICWA advocates during congressional hearings. A 1974 survey by the Association of American Indian Affairs showed that one in eight Native children in Minnesota were in an adoptive home. One-fourth of Native infants under one year old were in pre-adoptive foster care. ICWA prompted changes in Minnesota’s child welfare system, such as the licensing of Indian foster homes using standards acceptable to the Native community. It also required cultural sensitivity training for non-Native social workers and foster families.

In spite of these improvements, the law made little impact in Minnesota. Six years after ICWA’s passage, the state continued to rank first in the nation in out-of-home placements of Native children under the age of twenty-one. At the same time, the state ranked eleventh in the size of its population of Native children, according to a 1982 survey by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

These statistics prompted tribal leaders, legislators, and advocates to push for a Minnesota law that would provide stronger protection for Native youth than ICWA. In 1984, representatives introduced a bill in the state legislature to create a Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Act. It was the first piece of proposed state legislation to address the placement of Native children in non-Native homes. It sought to give tribes more authority in both voluntary and involuntary child placements. The bill was defeated, however, over concerns about the competency of tribal courts to handle these cases, among other issues.

The following year, a revised Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act was introduced in the Minnesota legislature and became law when it was signed by Governor Rudy Perpich on May 10. It required social-service workers to notify tribes early in the process when a Native family entered their system. It also created more comprehensive guidelines and rules around foster care placement than the federal law provided.

Despite these efforts, disparities between Native and non-Native children persisted. According to a report by the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the disparity rate among Minnesota children in foster care was the highest in the nation in 2019. Nearly 26 percent of children in state foster care were Native, yet 1.7 percent of the children in the state identified as Native American.

The removal of Native children across the country continues to be an issue in the 2020s, and challenges to ICWA remain. In 2023, the US Supreme Court heard arguments challenging its constitutionality. As the fate of ICWA hung in the balance, Minnesota legislators passed a bill authored by Senator Mary Kunesh and Representative Alicia Kozlowski in March 2023 that strengthened MIFPA. It removed references to the federal law so that protections for Native children would not be affected, whatever the court decided. The federal law was upheld in a Supreme Court decision issued in June.

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Association of American Indian Affairs. History of ICWA.

Carver, Katherine A. “The 1985 Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act: Claiming a Cultural Identity.” Minnesota Journal of Law and Inequality 4, no. 2 (June 1986): 327–354.

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, University of Minnesota. Legislative Task Force on Child Protection Update: Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council Recommendations Presented.

Duroche, Mary. “State Indian Family Act Helps Combat ‘Cultural Genocide.’” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, September 27, 1985.

Gunderson, Dan. “Minnesota Moves to Protect Native Children as Supreme Court Decision Looms.” MPR News, April 18, 2023.

Jacobs, Margaret D. A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.

ICWA Law Center. Understanding the ICWA.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act: Indian Homes for Indian Children.” Conference proceedings, American Indian Studies Center, UCLA, 1990.

Minnesota Department of Human Services. Indian Child Welfare Act/Minnesota Indian Family Act Preservation Manual, 2022.

Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act. Minnesota Session Laws. 1985, Regular Session, Chapter 111.

Minnesota Session Laws. 2015, Regular Session. Chapter 78–HF1535.

Stahl, Brandon, and Mary Jo Webster. “Why Does Minnesota Have So Many American Indian Kids in Foster Care?” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 22, 2016.

Vizenor, Gerald. “Indians Stolen From Parents.” Minneapolis Tribune, July 14, 1974.

Wurzer, Cathy, and Gretchen Brown. “New Bill Would Keep Native American Families Together, Proponents Say.” MPR News, February 7, 2023.

Related Images

State Representatives Keeler, Kozlowski, and Becker-Finn during House debate on MIFPA
State Representatives Keeler, Kozlowski, and Becker-Finn during House debate on MIFPA
Patricia Staine (right) and Minnesota Representative Alicia Kozlowski
Patricia Staine (right) and Minnesota Representative Alicia Kozlowski
State Senator Mary Kunesh and Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin DuPuis
State Senator Mary Kunesh and Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin DuPuis

Turning Point

In 1974, an Association of American Indian Affairs survey reveals that Minnesota has the highest family-removal rates of Native children in the US. Scholar Gerald Vizenor (White Earth Ojibwe) publishes an editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune bringing attention to the crisis.



The White Earth Indian School, Minnesota’s first boarding school for Native American children, opens.


The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Child Welfare League launch the Indian Adoption Project.


The Association of American Indian Affairs conducts a survey of disparities in adoptions and foster placements. In Minnesota, it finds, one in eight Native children are in an adoptive home.


The federal Indian Child Welfare Act becomes law.


A bill to create the Minnesota Child Welfare Act is introduced in the state legislature and defeated.


Legislators pass a modified version of the 1984 bill, and the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA) becomes law.


Legislators revise MIFPA to clarify the law’s purpose and specify expectations for compliance.


Minnesota passes a bill strengthening MIFPA in response to a challenge to ICWA before the US Supreme Court. The court upholds the federal law in a 7-2 decision.