Canadian Inuit leaders are remembering Nelson Mandela today, saying his battles against racism, inequality and poverty had deep meaning among Inuit.

The anti-apartheid activist was released from prison in South Africa in February 1990. He began travelling through Europe and North America and on July 1, 1990 his plane stopped in Iqaluit to refuel while en route to Ottawa from Ireland. Residents of Iqaluit turned out in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of him. (Click on 'Listen' on the left the hear archival tape from that event.)

On Twitter, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq wrote "The world has suffered a great loss. Nelson Mandela was a visionary leader and inspiration to all."

In a news release, Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said Mandela taught people to stand up for their rights.

“Perhaps just as importantly, he taught us the true meaning of forgiveness. His lessons on reconciliation have been an inspiration to Inuit during our own process of truth and reconciliation,” said Audla.

Cathy Towtongie, President of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, thanked Mandela for his passion and commitment.

“Mandela’s lifelong struggle to achieve equality has resonated with oppressed peoples around the world for so many years. His work began in a time when it was dangerous to rebel against apartheid, when fighting the oppressor was truly life threatening. His unwavering courage has inspired so many people, including many Inuit,” said Towtongie. 

In December 2000, Mandela met with Inuit representatives in Johannesburg, South Africa, during intergovernmental negotiations on a global convention to eliminate persistent organic pollutants.

“He modelled such integrity, strength, and resilience in the face of such public persecution for his leadership in the apartheid movement,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada at the time.

"When he came out of prison, his calm, wise and inclusive leadership style resonated with Inuit as our own culture reveres the same attributes in our elders.”