FORT SIMPSON, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES, SEPT. 19 -- Several thousand northern Canadian Indians and Eskimos have arrived here by boat, chartered bus, camper and plane to greet Pope John Paul II in his second attempt to visit this remote region.

Three years ago a dense fog that covered this frontier town prevented the pope's plane from landing for a meeting with Indians who had traveled hundreds of miles to see him. The cancellation caused deep disappointment and, for some, anger.

Some blamed the pope for yet another broken promise by the white man. They said he had been in too much of a hurry to adhere to a schedule that would take him to a meeting with the big shots in Ottawa. Most, however, blamed themselves, and Indian elders, the custodians of tradition and legend, read dark omens into the incident.

Elders of the Slavey tribe here in Fort Simpson, citing an ancient prophecy, said it meant that there was a curse on this town, an old Indian meeting place at the junction of two wide rivers, the Mackenzie and the Liard, where tribes came to trade fish, moose and caribou.

For the old wise men of the Dogrib tribe, whose members had traveled seven hours by buses over mostly gravel roads from their homelands near Yellowknife, it was interpreted as punishment for the high-stakes card and dice games that the younger men had played in their tents while they waited for the pope to arrive.

Before he left Canada in 1984, John Paul II promised that he would come back some day to Fort Simpson and on Sunday he will try again, his last stop before he returns to Rome. The Dogrib people have forsworn gambling this time. As further insurance against a repeat of the last time, a unit of the Canadian Armed Forces has been sent in with special radar equipment to guide in the pope's plane.

The Indians and Eskimos here have come from the little Indian communities nearby in the Mackenzie River valley and from as far away as settlements in the Yukon and Baffin Island above the Arctic Circle. As they were three years ago, native Canadians are camped near the grounds where the pope, whom they call Yahtita, or "father of fathers," is to say mass. They have held all-night drum dances and prayers while waiting for him to arrive.

A planeload of freshly killed caribou has been flown in for the celebration. The Dogrib people have been feasting off the moose that hunters shot as they came by boat down the river.

There are a variety of meanings and expectations attached to the pastoral visit. For the intense, college-educated young men who have planned and organized it, the emphasis is political. Jim Antoine, the former Slavey chief in Fort Simpson who is the chief organizer, described the visit as a catalyst for bringing people together. While he hopes the pope will give encouragement to the native tribes' struggle for recognition as a nation within Canada, that does not entirely erase Antoine's bitter memories of his years in Catholic schools here.

"The type of education I went through, like you're brainwashed," he said. "People called it colonized. All the teachers were white, all the priests were white."

For the elders who have accepted Christianity without rancor while keeping old native values, it is more of a spiritual event.

"Maybe he will change people's hearts," said Adeline Hardisty, Antoine's aunt. "You know the younger people, they're still searching, searching. It'll be good for them."

For the Rev. George LaGrange, Fort Simpson's parish priest, it is an occasion for reconciliation and healing, a time for the church to admit error and open a new chapter.

"We recognize that we brought {European} culture with the Christian message and perhaps we put as much effort in imposing a culture as we did in bringing the Christian message," he said.

LaGrange contended that the basic principles of Christianity and the ancient spirituality of the northern Canadian Indians, which is deeply rooted in their nomadic life as hunters, trappers and fishermen in the harsh environment of the Canadian north, are remarkably similar. The task ahead is to find a way of blending them, he said.

A giant teepee covered with white vinyl and supported by thick logs was erected three years ago for the pope's visit and will serve Sunday as the altar for the mass. It is a strained attempt at blending two religions, since the five tribes of the Mackenzie valley, who have united in a group they call the Dene Nation, have not built teepees since the early years of this century. A Cree Indian from the Canadian prairies, who is more familiar with teepees, came here to give advice on its construction.

Throughout its history, Canada has prided itself on eschewing imperial ambitions abroad. But many critics, especially the angry young Dene here, contend that in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, both of which are administered from Ottawa, Canada maintains domestic colonies.

Missionaires of the Catholic Church's Oblate order set up residential schools, which often meant that children were taken from their parents when they were 6 or younger and given western education. Some still painfully remember being spanked when they spoke their native languages.

That no longer happens. The territorial government runs the school system now and there is even a program for children to be instructed in their native languages for the first three years. Many parents avoid it, however, fearing that it will cause their children to fall behind in their studies.

Alcoholism is a big problem. Worried that drunkenness could mar the papal visit, community leaders persuaded the territorial government to ban the consumption and sale of beer and liquor Sept. 15 to 23.

But there is no argument even among the angry young men that many of the changes here have been for the better. They have raised the standard of living, curbed the spread of disease and educated a generation that now seeks greater control over its own destiny, but on its own terms. It is a tricky goal.

One of the aims of the young leaders is to remove the stranglehold of the white-run Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Hudson Bay Co. and the church, which originally opened up the north and remain the dominant institutions here.

But there can also be no doubt that few, if any, are willing to give up the comforts and amenities that change has brought. With satellite dishes, natives watch not only Canadian Broadcasting Corp. programs but American network shows. After school, teen-agers and small children in denims and American athletic shoes crowd into the video-game parlor.

On one matter, all here are agreed: that Pope John Paul's visit will serve a good purpose by focusing international attention on this all but forgotten part of the world.

"Our work in a very short period of time shows that we as aboriginal people are capable of taking on a major project and accomplishing big events," Antoine said.