In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela tells the story of his life as a freedom fighter. It is a story that holds inspiration for people anywhere who wish to follow Mandela's example and fight for freedom everywhere. It also holds a special connection to Newfoundland and Labrador.
In June 1990, four months after his release from 27 years of prison, Mandela travelled to North America for the first time in his life.
This trip included a speech to a huge crowd at Yankee Stadium (New York City), meetings with President George Bush, and an address to the U.S. Congress.
After the U.S., he came to Canada. His story of this visit only mentions one Canadian municipality by name: Goose Bay. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians currently reflecting on the importance of Nelson Mandela's life to our part of the world should read this story. Here it is, word for word, in its entirety:
“From the United States I proceeded to Canada, where I had a meeting with Prime Minister Mulroney and also addressed their Parliament. We were due to go to Ireland next, and before crossing the Atlantic, our plane, a small jet, stopped for refueling in a remote place above the Arctic Circle called Goose Bay. I felt like having a walk in the brisk air, and as I was strolling on the tarmac, I noticed some people standing by the airport fence. I asked a Canadian official who they were. Eskimos, he said. In my 72 years on earth I had never met an Inuit and never imagined that I would. I headed over to that fence and found a dozen or so young people in their late teens, who had come out to the airport because they had heard our plane was going to stop there. I had read about the Inuit (the name ‘Eskimo’ was given to them by the colonists) as a boy, and the impression I received from the racist colonialist texts was that they were a backward culture.
“But in talking with these bright young people, I learned that they had watched my release on television and were familiar with events in South Africa. ‘Viva ANC!’ one of them said. The Inuit are an aboriginal people historically mistreated by a white settler population; there were parallels between the plights of black South Africans and the Inuit people. What struck me so forcefully was how small the planet had become during my decades in prison; it was amazing to me that a teenaged Inuit living at the roof of the world could watch the release of a political prisoner on the southern tip of Africa. Television had shrunk the world, and had in the process become a great weapon for eradicating ignorance and promoting democracy.”