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Tuhoe took its first steps towards a Treaty settlement in an often emotional signing ceremony at Parliament yesterday to set out the rules with which it will negotiate with the Crown.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen and about 80 Tuhoe representatives lined up to sign the terms of negotiation which will launch discussions between the two aimed at resolving an often violent history.

The signing ceremony was only the second time Tuhoe has formally met with the Crown, and the first time it has done so one-on-one.

It was also among iwi signing last month's Central North Island "Treelords" deal.

Tamati Kruger, chairman of Te Kotahi a Tuhoe Trust, said it was a positive step forward, given "very poor relationships between the Crown and Tuhoe over the last 140 years".

Dr Cullen said the signing began the process by which those wrongs could be properly acknowledged and apologised for, as well as setting up a new relationship "of equals" between them.

It also gave Dr Cullen the chance to publicly acknowledge the long, fractured relationship between the Crown and Tuhoe, which had "a tragic history of state violence, confiscation of land and neglect of basic welfare".

There was also acknowledgement on both sides that there was a long way to go.

Mr Kruger said major issues included Tuhoe's wish to have Te Urewera National Park returned to it and discussions over the tribe's long-held desire for self-government.

"Those are very sensitive issues and we accept that for the Crown there will be a certain unease for them. It's great to have them around the other way."

He hoped it would not bog down negotiations.

"[The terms of negotiation] spell out quite clearly a moral obligation for each side to be generous and fair and keep an eye on the big picture, which is settlement."

He also issued a plea to National, should it win the election, to give the same priority to Treaty negotiations. The visit to Parliament by about 450 Ngai Tuhoe was a stark difference from last November's hikoi to protest against the police raids in Ruatoki.

Yesterday, the man who had partly sparked that hikoi - Tuhoe's Tame Iti - was a signatory of the agreement.

Mr Iti presented Dr Cullen with a taiaha which he said was used in the Land Wars, to hold on trust until a settlement was concluded.

Mr Iti said it symbolised "putting two people together".

Dr Cullen said he hoped to be able to return the taiaha once the settlement was concluded "with the honour of the Crown restored".

Mr Iti said it was a positive step for both sides. "I think it's great these two parties are in discussions. They used to think it was cuckoo-land to talk about the return of the Ureweras, and the issue of sovereignty. Now it's no longer in cuckoo-land. They are now on the table."

Although the mood was optimistic, the police raids - over which 16 people, including Mr Iti, still face firearms charges - remained an undercurrent. Dr Cullen mentioned the raids in his speech, saying he could not comment on the justification for them, but he knew emotions were still raw and opinions strong.