Asteroid named after Tlingit-Tagish Klondike gold discoverer Skookum Jim

The Skookumjim asteroid is located between Jupiter and Mars, an area commonly known as the asteroid belt.

You’ll need a professional-grade telescope to see it – but an asteroid in outer space now bears the name of a legendary First Nations figure in Yukon.

Dubbed Skookumjim, the asteroid gets its name from one of the founders of the Klondike gold rush.

Keish, more popularly known as Skookum Jim Mason, was a Tlingit and Tagish adventurer who lived from 1855 to 1916.

He’s credited as one of the people who discovered gold in 1897 in the Bonanza Creek near Dawson City, which led to the Klondike gold rush the following year.

Jim placed what remained of his fortune in a trust, and after he died, a substantial sum was left to help First Nations people in Yukon.

The Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, a non-profit organization in Whitehorse, says that trust continues on today.

“It’s fantastic,” says Deputy Haa Shaa du Hen Maria Benoit of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN).

Skookum Jim asteroid
The asteroid is named after Klondike gold rush founder Skookum Jim. Photo: Library and Archives Canada

Benoit has a connection to Jim as her grandfather, Tagish John, was Jim’s nephew.

She says C/TFN is thrilled Jim is being recognized in outer space.

“I was very surprised, as well a lot of other people, that an asteroid is going to be named after Skookum Jim, but we’re actually very proud of that as well,” she says.

Benoit says skookum means strong and is a fitting name for the asteroid, which is thought to be between eight and fifteen kilometers in diameter.

“Skookum Jim was well known to be a hefty strong person that used to help the miners carry over their items over the mountain during the gold rush, (and) this asteroid is apparently quite huge, and it’s big and it’s strong, so it’s a proper name for the asteroid,” she says.

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Christa Van Laerhoven, president of the Yukon Astronomical Society, says back in 2018 her chapter was asked by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to submit names to the International Astronomical Union which names objects in space.

“The name that came to us naturally was Skookum Jim. During his contribution to the gold rush kickoff, as a single person who had a very large impact on Yukon history, he just made sense,” she says.

Last month the society learned their submission was chosen.

Skookum Jim asteroid
You need a professional-grade telescope to see the Skookumjim asteroid.

Van Laerhoven says Skookumjim orbits the sun between Jupiter and Mars which is an area commonly known as the asteroid belt.

“It takes about five and a third years to orbit around the sun. Its orbit is not circular, it’s a little bit, we call eccentric, a slightly circular orbit, and it sits at about 15 degrees, roughly relative to earth’s orbit,” she says.

Benoit hopes the asteroid will help Skookum Jim’s name live on.

“I think people are going to start paying more attention and looking for it.”

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