Key Points:

About 200 people representing East Cape iwi Ngati Porou entered Parliament today to witness the signing of the first foreshore and seabed deed of agreement.

The agreement is intended to protect the customary rights of local iwi using coastal areas, while wider public access rights also remain intact.

It means Maori in areas covered by the agreement will have a greater hand in environmental decisions made by government.

Ngati Porou rununga chairman Apirana Mahuika said today negotiations between iwi and the Crown had been long and at times challenging, but he was proud of the outcome.

Attorney-General Michael Cullen, who has been involved in the negotiations process and was representing the Crown today, put in an apology for the absence of a campaigning Maori Affairs Minister, Parekura Horomia.

Dr Mahuika suggested that was a blessing as the event had the potential to be turned by media into a "political football".

"This is not about Parekura or the coming elections, this is about the mana of Ngati Porou," he said.

"It's about the mana we have always had previous to 1840" (when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed).

Dr Cullen said the determination shown by Dr Mahuika on behalf of his people had "not provided me or my officials with an easy passage".

"At each step of the process our assumptions and our positions have been challenged and we have made challenges of our own in return."

The solid consensus for ratification of the agreement was a direct result of the determination shown by the likes of Dr Mahuika, Dr Cullen said.

The challenge ahead was to implement the agreement.

Dr Cullen and representatives of the Crown faced a passionate haka before dozens of hapu representatives put pen to paper.

The agreement is the first born out of the legislation that the Government passed to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that said it was possible for some Maori to claim freehold title to the foreshore and seabed in areas where they had maintained uninterrupted possession.

The Foreshore and Seabed Act created widespread resentment among Maori and resulted in the formation of the Maori Party.

Processes will now need to be enacted in court and Parliament to give effect to the deed of agreement.