STORY: "This is a trip of penance. Let's say that is its spirit," the pope told reporters after his flight took off from Rome.
The papal plane touched down in Edmonton in the western province of Alberta, where he will visit a former residential school and meet with indigenous peoples on Monday. He is also visiting Quebec City and Iqaluit, the capital of the territory of Nunavut. He will depart on Friday.
Between 1881 and 1996 more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. Many children were starved, beaten and sexually abused in a system that Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called "cultural genocide."
The pope sat between the two Canadian officials for a short performance of four drummers and native singing before several indigenous leaders, many wearing elaborate headdresses, greeted and exchanged gifts with him.
"I asked today the pope to walk with us," Grand Chief George Arcand of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "It was a very humbling experience to talk to your holiness."