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Aboriginal Peoples of Canada's Yukon Territory

Updated on July 14, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

The Dempster Highway in the Yukon -- Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8.
The Dempster Highway in the Yukon -- Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8. | Source

People Who Live at the Arctic Circle

The Aboriginal Peoples of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Canadian Territories are fascinating in their cultures and histories. Their survival skills in harsh climates are jaw-dropping.

Scientists recently learned of their genetic and cultural links with other Circumpolar Peoples around the full Arctic Circle, including Iceland - delightful news in my 40+ years of related professional research. Most recently, I edited a book concerning the migration of Aboriginals back and forth across national borders in Western Canada and USA.

Yukon Territory, Canada, Established 1898

A 1953 Yukon Territory truck license plate.
A 1953 Yukon Territory truck license plate. | Source

I collected information about Plains Indians beginning in Grade 3, but progressed to college majors in psychology and Russian studies and a minor involving cultural anthropology and archeology related to Native North Americans. The education helped me to find my own indigenous heritage years later.

I have enjoyed my in-person research visits to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which led me to additional sites revealing information about the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory and how they are related.

"Larger than All of the Natural World."

"Larger than all of the natural world."
"Larger than all of the natural world." | Source
A deer munching on the Yukon's Territorial flower, the fireweed.
A deer munching on the Yukon's Territorial flower, the fireweed. | Source

Discovering the Yukon

University archaeology and anthropology courses provided a sparse overview of the Pacific Northwest and Yukon Territory Peoples in my experience, but much more was discovered. Now, the 21st century is an era of gigantic findings in new archaeological digs on many continents.

It has been rewarding activity to find what we call "totem" poles in East Asia, Siberia, and other regions similar to those found in the Pacific Northwest and small outposts in the Yukon Territory on the Alaskan border. Moreover, it has been enlightening to find at least three related First Nations and Native Alaskans inhabiting a long area of land in both USA and Canada.

Dawson City, Major Yukon Historical Community

Dawson City, Yukon
Dawson City, Yukon | Source

One of my ancestors served in the French and Indian War at the Siege of Fort Pitt, translating for the French and British. Accessing data from the Smithsonian-National Geographic human DNA project and The Ohio State University showed the Cherokee split from Mohawk Nation and Iroquois links to Africa's Zulu Nation.

The Yukon Territory Includes Only City and Seven Towns

show route and directions
A markerCity of Whitehorse YK -- Territory Capital -
Whitehorse, YT, Canada
get directions

A full 3/4 of the territory's population live here in this city, which is the territory's only incorporated city.

B markerDawson YK -
Dawson, YT, Canada
get directions

Called "Dawson City" this locale is a town.

C markerMayo YK -
Yukon College Mayo Campus, Mayo, YT Y0B 1M0
get directions

D markerFaro YK -
Town Of Faro, Faro, YT Y0B, Canada
get directions

E markerCarmacks -
Carmacks, YT, Canada
get directions

F markerHaines Junction YK -
Haines Junction, YT Y0B, Canada
get directions

G markerTeslin YK -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

H markerWatson Lake YK -
Watson Lake, YT Y0A, Canada
get directions

Anthropological Terminology

In cultural anthropology in the USA, Indigenous Peoples on our continent have also been called aboriginal, native, original, or first peoples.

This article speaks about those people indigenous to Canada and Alaska from some point between 12,000 or 14,000 and 35,000 or more years ago. The first humans to settle in the lands that became Canada and the USA are grouped this way:

Native North Americans: This umbrella term Includes first inhabitants from Mexico to north of the Arctic Circle and from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.

  • Indigenous groups in Canada are also called First Nations, Aboriginals, and First Peoples. Those living clustered around the Arctic Circle are also called Circumpolar Peoples. Groups in Alaska are also termed Native Alaskans.
  • First Nations reservations are called reserves.
  • Indigenous groups in America (USA) have a large number of names: Native Americans (preferred by a number of groups), American Indians, Amerindians, Tribes, Tribal Groups, and Indigenous Peoples. Infrequently, they are called First Peoples. In 19th century UK literature, Native Americans were often called Red Indians to differentiate them from Asian Indians, who were called Blacks by some writers.
  • Many federally recognized Native American Nations live on reservations.

Helpful Abbreviations:

  • Canadian Yukon - Officially, this is the Yukon Territory, abbreviated YK. Some 19th and 20rth century literary works spoke of the Canadian Yukon during a time of Alaskan border negotiations.
  • Alaskan Yukon - Today, it does not exist. During boundary disputes, a portion of Alaska was called the Alaskan Yukon. Some Aboriginal groups are found on both sides of the border. In fact, many of them have intermarried and shared cultures and customs.

Emerald Lake in Carcross, Yukon

Source

First Nations Reserves in the Yukon

show route and directions
A markerCarcross -
Carcross, YT Y0B, Canada
get directions

B markerLake Laberge -
Lake Laberge, Yukon Territory, Canada
get directions

C markerMoosehide -
Moosehide, YT Y0B, Canada
get directions

D markerTeslin -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

First Nations Communities

The Yukon also supports 16 lesser communities that are census-designated areas and unincorporated. In addition, the territory supports four First Nations Reserves.

First Nation Reserves in the YK:

  • Carcross Reserve # 4
  • Lake Laberge (Tàa'an Män) Reserve #1
  • Moosehide Creek Reserve #2
  • Teslin Trading Post Reserve #13

Aboriginal Languages Spoken in Yukon Territory as of the 2011 Census:

  • Self reported languages included: Cree, Dene, Innu/Montagnais, Inuktitut, Mi'kmaq, Ojibway, and Oji-Cree.
  • A counted 7,705 people report Aboriginal origins out of about 36,000 residents in the territory. About 20% of these Aboriginals report the ability to speak an Aboriginal language.


Locations of Major Yukon Territory First Nation/Native Alaskan Groups and Offices

show route and directions
A markerCircle, Alaska -
Circle, AK, USA
get directions

Northern end of the Han homelands. Established in 1893 on Yukon River as a logging city & boomed with business for only one year when gold was fou

B markerDawson City, Yukon Territory -
Dawson City, YT, Canada
get directions

The Han People.

C markerOld Crow, Yukon Territory -
Old Crow, YT, Canada
get directions

Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation.

D marker Yukon Territory -
Yukon Territory, Canada
get directions

Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

E markerWhitehorse, Yukon Territory -
Whitehorse, YT, Canada
get directions

Yukon Indian Cultural Education Society and Council for Yukon Indians.

F markerTelsin, Yukon Territory -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

Dease River and Yukon bands and Teslin Tlingit Council.

G markerWatson Lake, Yukon Territory -
Watson Lake, YT Y0A, Canada
get directions

Kaska Tribal Council.

Major First Nation Bands of the Canadian Yukon

Speaking a total of eight Indigenous Languages and with one group with homelands on both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border, the Aboriginals in the Canadian Yukon include, in alphabetical order:

Aishihik (or Aishikik or Aishigik) First Nation and Champagne First Nation Locations

  • #1 Allen Place, PO Box 5310 Haines Junction YK, Y0B 1L0
  • 304 Jarvis Street Whitehorse YK, Y1A 2H2.
  • These groups are found just north of the border with British Columbia. Given that the larger group of all Aboriginals traveled across the Bering Strait west to east and adding cultural and DNA tracking, these two nations likely crossed into Alaska and the Yukon Territory and continued south and southeastward through to BC.
  • These combined two nations recognize their two communities of habitation, but are now largely found in Haines Junction, at the Klukshu fishing spot in the Yukon Territory, with some licing in Whitehorse. Language is usually Southern Tutchone.
  • The Royal BC Museum staff found that mummy found by hunters in Northern BC through mtDNA to be related to 17 members of Native Alaskans, British Columbia First Nations, and the Yukon's Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Reference: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2007515/posts Location:

Council of Yukon First Nations

The Council of Yukon First Nations was founded in 1973 and represents at least 10 of the 14 nations recognized by the territorial government in 1995.

Important Locations

  • Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon Aboriginal Sports Circle (on Facebook), Training Policy Committee, Aboriginal Women's Circle; 2166-2nd Avenue; Whitehorse, Yukon Territory Y1A 4P1.
  • Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. 1171-1st Avenue, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
  • Yukon Indian Cultural Education Society. 11 Nisutlin Drive. Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada Y1A 2S5.

Gwich'in Hunters

Gwich'in men at Fort Yukon, Alaska.
Gwich'in men at Fort Yukon, Alaska. | Source

Interior Yukon Aboriginals

  • Gwich’in Native Alaskan Nation and Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation. Fort Yukon, Circle, Arctic Village, and Venetie, Alaska; and Old Crow, Yukon Territory. The dialects of all of these communities are similar and called Western Gwich'in. Old Crow people are particularly interested in in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, because their caribou herds give birth there. At least four bands of Gwich'in reside in Canada's Northwest Territories.
  • Kluane First Nation. Burwash Landing YK.
  • Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. Carmacks YK.
  • First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun. Mayo YK. Part of their lands stretch into the Northwest Territories to the east. Some trace their family histories to the Gwitch'in people of Northern Yukon and the Mackenzie people of Eastern Yukon.
  • Ross River Dena Council, Kaska Dena Nation. Pelly Crossing YK.
  • Selkirk Nation. Pelly Crossing YK. Formerly called the Hucha Hudan at Fort Selkirk Trading Post in YK. Also found in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

Near Dawson City, Yukon Territory in 1898

Chief Isaac of the Han People, Canadian Yukon.
Chief Isaac of the Han People, Canadian Yukon. | Source

The Han People of the Yukon Territory and Alaska

The name Han can be confusing, because at least three major Han groups exist: in China, all of the Korean original people, and this Aboriginal Group in Canada. They are all named Han.

The names of many Native North American groups means "The People", sometimes with variations and descriptors added. In Korea, Han has meant The First and Only People, according to language and linguistics specialists consulted at The Ohio State University -- The current Korean alphabet is Han-gul, or the people's writing. In China, Han means the Chinese people and also self-control and restraint. In the Yukon Territory, the name of the tribal group, Han, translates as People of the River.

The Han Territory sits on the Canadian Yukon-Alaska border along the Yukon River. It is located about 20 km south of Dawson and extends to the north to within 50 km south of Circle, Alaska.

The Yukon Han were displaced by the Klondike Gold Rush in the early 1900s and Chief Isaac led them to new homelands. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the Han who steadfastly followed Chief Isaac and their descendants incorporated to form Chief Isaac, Inc. This is a company of legitimate shareholders that are all from Dawson City, Yukon.

Current Han Lands in Alaska and Yukon Territory

show route and directions
A markerCircle, Alaska -
Circle, AK, USA
get directions

B markerDawson City, Yukon Territory -
Dawson City, YT, Canada
get directions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hereditary chief of Ta’an Kwäch’än and Southern Tutchone people for over 40 years.Chief Boss in War Regalia.
Hereditary chief of Ta’an Kwäch’än and Southern Tutchone people for over 40 years.
Hereditary chief of Ta’an Kwäch’än and Southern Tutchone people for over 40 years. | Source
Chief Boss in War Regalia.
Chief Boss in War Regalia. | Source

Western and Southern Yukon Territory

  • Han Language Group - Located from north of Circle City AK (Where Gwich'in also reside) down through Dawson YK (see map above). Today, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (Han) is located in Dawson YK, being about 1,100 descendants of Han speakers, Gwich'in, and others.
  • Kwanlin Dün First Nation (formerly the Whitehorse Indian Band, see video below) and Ta'an Kwach'an Council. Whitehorse YK. The second group traces their ancestors to the Southern Tutchone speakers, the Tagish nation, and the Tlingit nation; and, about half of them live in Alaska. Chief Jim Boss of the Ta'an Kwach'an put forth the first Aboriginal Land Claim in the Yukon in 1902, finally recognized in the 1970s. He was born of the Hutshi and Tagish peoples, traded with the Tlingits, and opened a roadhouse at Lake Laberge (Ta'an Man) to serve customers during the Klondike Gold Rush. Altogether, he ran about 20 successful businesses and helped to train the RCMP.
  • Liard River First Nation of the Kaska Tribal Council/Kaska Dena Nation and Lower Post First Nation. Watson Lake YK.

"Listen to the Stories" of the Kwanlin Dun

Carcross Desert, Yukon Territory

Source

"We who are Tagish and we who are Tlingit, our heritage has grown roots into the earth since the olden times. Therefore we are part of the earth and the water." -- Elders Statement, Carcross/Tagish First Nation

Tlingit Carved Cedar Pole

Located at Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tlingit intermarried with the Kwakiutl bands of the Pacific Northwest and some Yukon bands, bringing additional family crests and power animals with them.
Located at Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tlingit intermarried with the Kwakiutl bands of the Pacific Northwest and some Yukon bands, bringing additional family crests and power animals with them. | Source
  • Tagish/Tlingit First Nation of Carcross YK, also found in Whitehorse.

The Tagish intermarried to a large extent with the Tlingits at one time, as did the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest. The Tlingits intermarried with many other nations. One of the great examples is the famous artist Mungo Martin and his wife.

Tribal art specializations include clan crests and power animals on "totem poles" and other art pieces, usually in the Coastal Tlingit and Tagish Athabaskan traditional designs. The Button Blanket is another favorite artistic piece of art and wardrobe element. The Wolf and Crow moeities (groups of clans) make up the community, with Wolfs and Crows to intermarry.

An official plaque at Carcross states that the Tagish Frog Clan man Skookum Jim (James Mason) discovered the first gold nugget of the Klondike Gold Rush on August 16, 1896 at Rabbit Creek.

  • Telsin Tlingit Council, Dease River Band of the Kaska Dena Nation, and other small bands. Teslin YK.
    • Clans of the Teslin Tinglit include Raven Child, Frog, Wolf, Beaver, and Eagle.
    • The Big Sinew Tribe of Inland Tlingit lives in Teslin, while a dozen others reside in Alaska, with additional bands in British Columbia - especially the Coastal Tlingit.
  • Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Alaska, USA. 320 W. Willoughby Ave., Suite 300, Juneau AK. Current genealogy tracking of related Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian persons: http://tinyurl.com/o387a5y
  • White River Nation. Beavercreek YK.

Tagish Frog Clan man Skookum Jim (James Mason)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) in 1898.
Source
Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) in 1898.
Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) in 1898. | Source

Yukon Gold, discussed in a novel by Hubber Rolly A. Chabot

Cross Claims
Cross Claims

This is an engaging and interesting story about Yukon Territory, written by a HubPages member who has lived in the vicinity. It deals with the territory, modern gold mining, and human interactions.

 

Telsin Tlingit Council, Dease River Band, and other small bands.

show route and directions
A markerVillage of Teslin -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

Many First Nations offices are located in the peninsula.

B markerTeslin YK -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

"Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska" 320 W. Willoughby Ave., Suite 300, Juneau AK. Current genealogy tracking of related Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian persons is found at http://tinyurl.com/o387a5y

Tlingit Lands -- Central Council of "Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska"

show route and directions
A markerJuneau AK -
Juneau, AK, USA
get directions

Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska

B markerTeslin YK -
Teslin, YT, Canada
get directions

Tlingit Council in Yukon Territory

C markerGwich’in Native Alaskans. Fort Yukon AK. -
Fort Yukon, AK 99740, USA
get directions

D markerOld Crow Gwich'in -
Old Crow, YT, Canada
get directions

Notice how these Indigenous Peoples cross political boundaries in the above map. This seems especially true of Tlingit bands, who have been very open to other peoples for intermarriage.

The Tlingit may be a nation that has produced one of the larger arrays of descendants and cast more influences on neighboring cultures in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada than have some other Aboriginals; note the Tsimshians, for example. They are certainly at home in the Yukon Territory.

References: Aboriginals of The Yukon Territory

  • Dana, Leo-Paul; Anderson, Robert B. Chapter 25: People of the river; Subsistence economy of the Han, Athabaskan People, of the Upper Yukon People; by William E, Simeone. International Handbook of Research on Indigenous Entrepreneurship. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited/Inc., UK & USA. 2007. http://tinyurl.com/mff8y7m Retrieved September 30, 2014.
  • History of Yukon First Nations People www.yfnta.org/past/history.htm Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  • Native Languages in the Yukon www.ynlc.ca/languages/ Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  • Ruppert, James and Bernet, John W. Ed. Our voices : Native stories of Alaska and the Yukon. University of Nebraska Press, 2001
  • Simeone, Tonina. The Arctic: Northern Aboriginal Peoples. Special Affairs Division, Parliament of Canada. www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0810-e.htm Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  • Statistics Canada. The 2011 Canadian Census; provincial and community statistics..
  • Thornton, Thomas F. Being and place among the Tlingit. University of Washington Press and Sealaska Heritage Institute. 2008

© 2014 Patty Inglish

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @DzyMsLizzy - That does sound like some enjoyment! I wonder how she likes the climate there?

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well, he's in the Army--so I don't know how much "enjoyment" he's getting. LOL Outside of the fact that when he was home for the holidays last year, he went and got married in Las Vegas, so now that his bride has finished her local college courses, she's now with him, finishing her schooling there. I guess that's his enjoyment. ;-)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @Just Ask Susan - Thanks for the good word! Sometimes visitors to the Yukon are thoroughly surprised on their first visit.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @DzyMsLizzy - Is your grandson enjoying himself near Fairbanks? It is so different in Alaska from many of the other states. I wonder if we might find that some people still know the boundaries to the Alaska Yukon and still call it that? What fun to find out! And thanks for sharing and pinning.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @swilliams - Thanks for voting and Tweeting! The northern territories of Canada are full of interesting places, wildlife, businesses, and cultures, despite the winter climate.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @mySuccees8 - Thanks for your comment! While I've studied origins and migration patterns of Indigenous Peoples for 40+ years, I'll never have all the information, because it is immense and overwhelming. In North America, the history is at least 10,000 years old and we can't capture it all; But I notice that archaeologists are finding increasing numbers of artifacts, even whole cities in just the last couple of years and all over the globe. It's exciting.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Wow, a lot of detail. Interesting to learn about the People of the River.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can see why your hub was chosen as HOTD! Very informative and educational article Patty.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD! This was fascinating, and educational.

      I had no idea that these aboriginal cultures were so diverse in such ancient times, or that there was any relation to such far-flung peoples as the Zulu!

      I shall have to look at a larger-scale map to see where the (former) Alaskan Yukon is situated in relation to where my grandson is stationed near Fairbanks at Ft. Wainwright.

      Voted up +++ shared and pinned!

    • swilliams profile image

      Emunah La Paz 2 years ago from Arizona

      Very interesting topic Patty Inglish! I never knew of the Aboriginal history in Canada. Very informative! Voted up and Tweeted out!

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 2 years ago

      There is a large population of indigenous people representing a rich diversity of histories living in various countries worldwide. To compile and document a history of one in a concise, but comprehensive manner, requires a lot of effort and research. You did it for this one, by also making it very interesting. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      Thanks for the nice comment! They Yukon is full of wonder and contains many more sights and places of interest than we might imagine.,

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      Very informative and interesting work. Well done my friend. whonu

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      Quadraincorp 2 years ago

      Good information

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @mckbirdbks - Thanks for the Tweets - I am Canada-manic this week!

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      My goodness, young lady. My inbox is filled with notifications that you are writing, writing and more writing.

      I am going ot admit that I skimmed this article. It looks like an interesting presentation, that does not get the same attention as other areas. In the U.S. of A. Canadian history is glossed over with quick strokes. I think if not for Alaska we would not know anything about Canada.

      I'll send this over to Twitter and see if that draws any attention.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      Yes, it's all very invigorating! Can't wait to find more :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      This is a good article on the history and background of the Yukon. I'm sure you were excited finding more information on your heritage. How wonderful!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @handymanbill - Thank you many times for voting and enjoying this Hub! I hope it brings some information that is not well known to readers everywhere.

    • handymanbill profile image

      Bill 2 years ago from western pennsylvania

      Very good and Interesting hub. Voted up and interesting

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      @dahoglund - I am delighted that you enjoyed this Hub and hope it does prove useful to you! Really, I could not fit everything into one article and I also have more to learn. Thanks a million for commenting!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This is an excellent hub. I know a little bit about the history of Alaska, but not much about the Canadian part of things. I may refer back to your hub when I need some information about Yukon history. Voted up, useful and beautiful. Sharing.