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Whistler investigates sister city relationship with Nias

Council is supportive of pursuing a sister city relationship with the Indonesian island of Nias, a surfer’s paradise which has been ravaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

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After a proposal by local businessman Jay Wahono, who is originally from Indonesia, council voted to vet their long-term aid proposal through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. FCM is co-ordinating the response from Canadian municipalities to the tsunami disaster, although it does not deal specifically with sister city partnerships.

Staff has been asked to report back to council on Whistler’s next steps after discussions with FCM.

"It’s a laudable program," said Councillor Gordon McKeever. "I think there’s a lot to be gained on both sides."

Ultimately the municipality is hoping to build a relationship with the community, which can last years down the road.

Some council members raised a few concerns about the choice of Nias, after a brief presentation by Wahono at Monday’s council meeting.

Councillor Nick Davies, highlighting the fact that Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, wondered how some locals, who may be protective of their religion, would feel about forming ties with a predominantly Christian country.

Wahono explained that Nias was mainly Christian.

Davies also questioned the unstable regimes in the area and whether they could affect Whistler’s sister city relationship in the future.

Wahono admitted there are challenges but could not predict what might happen in the future.

"The people need help," he said. "That’s the bottom line."

Councillor Ken Melamed questioned the choice of a community of 600,000 people as a sister city for Whistler, with its population of 10,000.

Wahono said Whistler has the resources and the capacity to help even a city of 1 million.

"Don’t be misled with the number," he added.

If Whistler can make a difference to a place of 600,000, that’s even better than helping a place with a smaller population, he said.

Nias is the nearest landmass to the epicentre of the earthquake which trigged the tsunami on Boxing Day. It’s lies roughly 125 kilometres west of Sumatra Island on the Indian Ocean.

Like Whistler, it’s a resort community, famous for its surfing, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving.

The sister city partnership could be a way for Whistler to export knowledge, resources and perhaps even staff to the island as it begins to rebuild from the disaster. At the same time, Whistler can learn from a place, which some believe has been inhabited since the Stone Age.

Wahono said the community has maintained the balance of nature and progress for thousands of years.

Councillors Caroline Lamont and Marianne Wade pushed Whistler to also think of joining forces with other partners in the region to capitalize on the aid effort.

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