The national Inuit organization in Canada says the Trudeau government’s new Indigenous languages bill has failed to address Inuit rights.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) expressed “disappointment” Tuesday in Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s new legislation, Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act, calling it a “symbolic gesture.”

The statement has put ITK at odds with both Ottawa and another major Indigenous organization, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which welcomed the tabling in Parliament of the bill and said it “deserves the support of all Parliamentarians and all Canadians.”

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Rodriguez said he was "proud" to introduce the bill, telling reporters before a press conference, "we’re losing all Indigenous languages in the country."

“They’re all threatened. Ninety per cent are threatened. We have to make sure that they’re able to keep their language to revitalize and to be able to tell their own stories in their own languages," he said.

The Department of Canadian Heritage has said it engaged ITK, AFN and the Métis Nation, to “co-develop” the bill, which has been in the works since December 2016. Rodriguez said the government “consulted for over a year and a half, sometimes on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis.”

ITK, however, argued this co-development process had been essentially a sham.

“Despite being characterized as a reconciliation and co-development initiative, the Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative,” ITK president Natan Obed stated in a press release.

“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit.”

The bill is supposed to protect and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada, as many of the dozens of languages spoken are said to be rapidly disappearing. First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders have hoped that a new law can ensure these languages can be used in day-to-day government services and spoken by federal employees.

The bill establishes an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, and other measures for the future “long-term, sustainable funding of Indigenous languages” as well as supports and promotes their use, said Rodriguez's office.

But ITK argued the new commissioner’s office “will be a powerless advocacy body, perpetually burdened by costly and onerous reporting duties."

It also questioned why the bill “contains no federal obligation to fund indigenous languages.”

ITK initially welcomed the co-development process in 2017 as a way to build on the rights of Inuktut, the language spoken by 84 per cent of Inuit, and considered by ITK to be the most resilient Indigenous language in Canada.

The organization said it handed over a “variety of documents” to propose solutions and tried to achieve “compromise” on ways to introduce new statutory and regulatory commitments.

AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement Tuesday that the new bill gave him “hope.”

“This legislation will support First Nations efforts to keep their languages alive, vital and strong. Canadians and all parliamentarians must support this bill because we all understand that language is identity, languages is culture, language is life,” he said.

“There is no better way to mark 2019 — the International Year of Indigenous Languages — than to see the country that once tried to eliminate our languages enact a law to protect, promote and revitalize our languages.”

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