A lawsuit launched last month by former students of native residential schools in Kamloops and Cranbrook may end up being a test case. 19 plaintiffs are suing the federal government and the Catholic Church for compensation for what they allege is cultural genocide.

They attended the residential schools at different times starting in the 1940s and ending in the early 1970s.They claim the schools systematically tried to destroy their language and their way of life.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages from the people who ran the schools -- the federal government and the Catholic Church.

Shawn Tupper, a senior policy advisor with the department of Indian affairs, says the issue of cultural genocide will likely end up in court, partly to decide whether there's anything in the law that would allow for it.

Tupper says the federal government has been trying to deal with allegations of sexual and physical abuse at residential schools without going to court.

He says the aim is to avoid re-victimizing the people who attended the schools, to try to be sensitive to the kinds of issues that some residential school survivors have been carrying with them for 30 to 40 years.

So far, former students of residential schools have launched 2,000 lawsuits across the country.