Key Points:

Maori wiped tears from their eyes at Parliament today as around half a billion dollars worth of forestry and assets was handed over to seven central North Island iwi.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen told a packed Beehive Banquet Hall that it is a tragedy of the nation's history that the Crown failed to uphold its part of the bargain, since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed 160 years ago.

He says it failed to deliver on its obligations of partnership and respect and failed to deliver equality and protect the rights of Maori.

Prime Minister Helen Clark is commending the efforts made by those in reaching the agreement, saying she and her colleagues came into politics to address injustice and effect reconciliation.

She is thanking Maori for walking the path with them to reach today's historic settlement.

The deal involves $195.7m of crown forest land covering 176,000 hectares plus about $223m in rentals that have accumulated on the land since 1989 and an annual income stream of $13m.

If the Government is able to pass its emissions trading legislation, the central North Island collective of iwi covered by the settlement could also be in to gain about $40m in carbon credits.

The collective is made up of Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Whare, Ngati Manawa, Raukawa and the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu. Together they represent more than 100,000 people.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen said a door was still open to an eighth iwi, Ngati Rangitihi, which had been part the collective, if it agreed to the settlement in the next six months.

The signing took place after a powhiri in the Banquet Hall at the Beehive.

Hundreds of iwi were present for the ceremony which lasted several hours before the signing itself.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia said that when the settlement was completed, the collective of central North Island iwi would be the "largest single land owner in the forestry sector in this country and one of the largest investors".

Dr Cullen said that while the settlement was first and foremost an achievement that would benefit central North Island Maori and that region, it was one all New Zealanders would share in.

With the signing and the subsequent passage of associated legislation, iwi represented in the collective "will finally have a real opportunity to realise their full economic potential".

"With the transfer of the majority of the forests held by the Crown in the region to the seven iwi represented in the collective, a nearly half-billion dollar asset base will finally be utilised in the interests of local Maori."

Dr Cullen said the iwi themselves had initiated this settlement.

He thanked Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Heuheu, who first approached the Government late last year about the prospect of a collective agreement, and Wira Gardiner who acted as crown facilitator throughout the negotiation process.

Today's signing is part of an historic week for treaty deals, which included yesterday's first reading of legislation enshrining Affiliate Te Arawa's settlement, the first reading of a bill legislating the Treelords deal, the signing of terms of negotiation with Raukawa and the initialling of a deed of settlement with Taranaki Whanui.