NILO is the jail term abbreviation for Native Inmate Liaison Officer, the go-to person when it comes to smudging, deaths in the family and other miscellaneous matters in the incarcerated Native community. There are always a litany of issues when it comes to Native offenders. A lot of us suffer premature deaths and substance abuse issues stemming from the evils inflicted – and still being perpetrated by – the colonial system.
A good NILO worker needs a strong backbone because it’s definitely a struggle to promote Native rights inside the walls of various institutions in Canada and the United States.
Institutional racism runs rampant in the court and jail system. Couple that with poorly treated prisoners and guards and problems abound. To quote a veteran jail guard, “There’s no difference between me and those slaves that built the pyramids in Egypt.” The monotony of the daily grind is a good set up for problems. The system is designed not to work.
So the NILO must navigate the waters of a system based on a society that grudgingly accepts Native practices but doesn’t want to accept we’re still here and going strong. I’ve witnessed this a lot and have been in my own confrontations with institutions and NILOs with “you deserved it” or “If you don’t like it, quit coming to jail” attitudes.
It’s not that simple. These are people that have been heavily abused and suffering from generational trauma. These individuals are hurt to their very spirit.
I’ve known men whose sisters committed suicide and when they were in segregation, they were told they should commit suicide, too. Talk about evil slavers kicking you when you’re down.
So what are the good NILOs making headway doing? They’re going with the grain but against it at the same time. They are advocates for the betterment of the people.
When the guards don’t come get us for Native programming, they inquire as to why they aren’t bringing us. Bringing like-minded people to do pipe ceremonies. Generally having the indigenous heart of compassion for the downtrodden.
I can only speak for myself and the gratefulness I have every day for the Creator for showing the Haudenosaunee the real, natural great way. I love my culture, I love my Nation first before myself, and that is what being a warrior is all about.
The good NILO embodies that. They are rooted to the earth, and when your roots run deep like the mighty oak tree, no storm of life can rattle you. The good energy flows through your body from the spirits into the world.
The Creator works through goodhearted people that aren’t afraid to stand up and be heard, that listen to their Ohnikonra – the voice within their heart, which we are all born with.
The help of a good NILO could be the difference between life and death in these places. People die in here all the time – most from a broken heart.
The NILO has ears. The great Haudenosaunee NILOs I’ve met really help a lot. The up-and-coming NILOs should always love the red men and women no matter how difficult things get. They should always be a kind face in a dark world. They should challenge the indoctrination of the status quo.
With the population explosion in Canada amongst the red people, the flooding of the territory with drugs and hate, there will be a dire need of good NILOs with strong roots and spine. Think Indian, think Earth. There is no stopping the Great Law.