Bagaarrmugu and Guggu Yalanji leader Noel Pearson has warned a culture war brewing to oppose the Indigenous Voice to Parliament could, if successful, leave the First Nations cause 'perished in the mud'.
Speaking at the ABC's Boyer Lecture on Thursday, Mr Pearson said a losing battle on the Voice would would significantly set back the cause of Indigenous advancement, while a victory could diminish racism in the country.
The lecture came after the Federal Government on Tuesday outlined a $75m committment to fund the Voice referendum, pencilled in for the 2023-24 financial year.
Mr Pearson said the campaign for a "much unloved people" would be more difficult than the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite, which overcame a heated and at times vitriolic conservative campaign to record a 61.6 per cent yes vote.
He said Indigenous people were unpopular and not well-known to many Australians, which put the referendum's success at risk.
"It does not, and will not, take much to mobilise antipathy against Aboriginal people and to conjure the worst imaginings about us and the recognition we seek," he said.
"For those who wish to oppose our recognition it will be like shooting fish in a barrel.
"An inane thing to do â" but easy. AÂ heartless thing to do â"Â but easy."
But Mr Pearson said Australia as a country did not make sense without Indigenous constitutional recognition.
"Until the First Peoples are afforded our rightful place, we are a nation missing its most vital heart," he said.
"A yes vote in the voice referendum will guarantee that Indigenous peoples will always have a say in laws and policies made about us.
"This constitutional partnership will empower us to work together towards better policies and practical outcomes for Indigenous communities."
Mr Pearson said opponents of the Voice were using apathy towards Indigenous people to fuel a culture war campaign.