Silje Christoffersen, of Enterprise, works as a Youth Stewardship Education Program intern at Wallowa Resources in Enterprise.

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I recently had the privilege of attending a talk at the OK Theatre by Marion McGee, a representative from the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Marion traveled all the way to Enterprise because the Smithsonian identified the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center as an important partner in their mission to preserve our country’s multi-cultural history.

Marion spoke eloquently about the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in D.C. The NMAAHC has quickly become one of the most visited Smithsonian museums, with an average visit time of six hours. This museum celebrates our collective history through the African American lens. It is not just a museum “for black people” — it is a museum for everyone who seeks to deepen their understanding of America and the people who shape this country. Just as the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center is for everyone who cares about Wallowa County and our shared legacy.

As a young person returning home after college in Massachusetts and a year in Norway, I am increasingly fascinated by this place. Wallowa County is unique. People feel something here that they do not experience in other places. A lot of press on our county focuses on the aesthetic beauty of this place. With articles appearing in The New York Times and Travel Oregon, there’s been a recent shift in the visibility of our humble valley. But what makes this county special is the people and the connection to place.

In conversations with folks here, it’s clear that this publicity makes people nervous. I believe it’s valuable to reflect on this anxiety to help us consider the ways we do and don’t want to be represented.

Personally, I hope people come here with a respect and appreciation for Wallowa County’s loggers, ranchers, teachers, doctors, biologists and artists — the people whose labor and ideas continue to shape this landscape and maintain the strength of our community.

In an intercultural world and community, learning about history helps us develop our personal identity and sense of place. If we want tourists to engage with the human history of this place and not just its physical shell, we need to actively participate in the preservation of our history. The Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center provides opportunities for all of us to discover and showcase Wallowa County’s diverse history.

The Smithsonian recognizes the incredible asset we have, and we should too.

More information is available at www.maxvilleheritage.org and on Facebook at Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center or by phoning 541-426-3545.

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