Pope Francis has said the treatment of indigenous people in Canada amounted to a genocide, after a six-day trip where he apologised to survivors of abuse at Catholic-run schools.

"I didn't say the word (in Canada) because it didn't come to my mind, but I did describe the genocide.

"And I asked for forgiveness for this process which was genocide. I condemned it too," he told reporters onboard his plane returning to Rome.

"Taking away children, changing the culture, changing the mentality, changing the traditions, changing a race, let's put it that way, a whole culture.

"Yes, genocide is (a) technical word ... But I have described what is, indeed, a genocide."

During his trip, the pope apologised for the "evil" inflicted on indigenous communities at Canada's residential schools, where children were sent as part of a policy of forced assimilation.

He cited the "cultural destruction" and the "physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse" of children over decades.

The pope ended his trip to Canada as he began, by apologising to indigenous survivors of Catholic-run schools, a after meeting with Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic.

Pope Francis speaking to reporters on the way back from Canada

The 85-year-old pontiff travelled to the vast northern territory of Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit, which means "the place of many fish".

Residents greeted him with traditional performances including drumming and throat singing, on a stage set up to resemble an Inuit summer home, reflecting building materials such as whale ribs, sod and stone, beneath a cool, overcast sky.

He met first with survivors of the residential school system, which saw Indigenous children separated from their families, language and culture in a bid to stamp out their identity, before appearing at the public event.

He told a crowd of around 2,000 that their stories "renewed in me the indignation and shame that I have felt for months.

"I want to tell you how very sorry I am and to ask for forgiveness for the evil perpetrated by not a few Catholics who contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation and enfranchisement in those schools," he said.

As he spoke, Inuit people in the crowd could be seen hugging and holding hands. Some wiped away tears.

From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada's government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.

Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools, sending shockwaves throughout Canada, which has slowly begun to acknowledge this long, dark chapter in its history.