A deed of settlement, which aims to safeguard the Whanganui River for future generations, was initialled in Parliament on Wednesday.
More than 150 people attended the ceremony from various hapu with tribal connections to the waterway.
Before the ceremony some people could be seen sobbing, but once proceedings got underway there were people smiling and others greeting one another.
The deed establishes the Whanganui River as its own legal entity, to be managed by iwi.
Members from Ngati Uenuku, which called on the hapu to delay the initialling ceremony, were also in attendance.
On Monday, Ngati Uenuku urged the tribal treaty negotiating team to halt progress on the deed until the tribes have had a change to cite the document.
Now the deed has been initialled, three weeks will be set aside in which hui will be arranged to discuss the full details of the deed and post settlement arrangements - before iwi members will be called on to vote on the document.