Labor senator and veteran Indigenous leader Pat Dodson is calling for a renewed pathway towards reconciliation as he prepares to leave parliament.
Senator Dodson said cancer treatment had taken a toll and left him physically unable to perform his duties.
The West Australian reflected on his limited capacity during the Indigenous voice referendum debate.
"That was a pretty sobering thought - we don't live forever," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday, flanked by his Indigenous Labor colleagues.
Senator Dodson will retire on January 26, three days before his 76th birthday.
He thanked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for appointing him as special envoy for reconciliation and said the role should now go to his Indigenous colleague Jana Stewart.
Reconciliation was not just an Indigenous issue but an Australian one and Labor needed to move towards it despite the failed referendum, he said.
"I have great faith in the Labor Party to take on these challenges with courage and not to capitulate against the naysayers," he said.
Closing the disadvantage gap and economically empowering First Nations people needed to remain on the agenda.
"We should seriously start to look at and get out of the welfare mentality and ... enable first peoples to create the economic independence," Senator Dodson said.
He called on the government to reconsider the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which Australia voted against at the United Nations General Assembly.
"We need to go back to look at the importance, the significance of the United Nations declarations and covenants," he said.
The other aspects of the Uluru statement, including treaty and truth-telling, also needed to be pursued
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney was emotional as she praised Senator Dodson's contributions, saying she would continue to rely on his wisdom.
"His contribution, what he's allowed us to see, what his entire life has been about is the rights of First Nations people," Ms Burney said.
"We love him but we won't miss him because we're going to hassle the hell out of him."
A Yawuru man from Broome, Senator Dodson has dedicated his life to building mutual respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Before entering parliament in 2016, he was a member of the Australian National University Council, Adjunct Professor at the University of Notre Dame and co-chair of the National Referendum Council.
He was a commissioner in the landmark royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The prime minister said the outgoing senator made parliament a better place.
"Someone with Patrick's record of service would have been more than entitled to spend his late 60s and early 70s on one of those beautiful beaches in Broome," he told parliament.
"It's a measure of the man and a reflection of his commitment to our nation and to what he calls unfinished business that he chose to serve Australia in the Senate."
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Senator Dodson should be proud of his achievements.
"He's provided an inspiration to generations of young Indigenous people and provided support to their own advancement through their careers," he said.
Australian Associated Press