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Star Trek Voyager: Chakotay

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  • Rob
    Indian Comics Irregular #101 On UPN s Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Beltran played Chakotay, a Native American who attended Starfleet Academy before joining the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8, 2003
      Indian Comics Irregular #101

      On UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager," Robert Beltran played Chakotay, a
      Native American who attended Starfleet Academy before joining the
      rebel Maquis. The standard view is that Chakotay, the first
      continuing Native character in a Trek series, was an uplifting role
      model. "Chakotay is a passionate man who has earned Captain
      Janeway's respect as her friend and First Officer," Beltran
      once explained.

      But Al Carroll (Mescalero Apache), a PhD student at Arizona State
      University, has another view. He dissected Chakotay's background in
      his thesis, "Depictions of Native Veterans in Fiction." Some
      excerpts:

      The character of Chakotay in "Star Trek: Voyager" (STV) is every
      bit as much a creature of white fantasies as Billy Jack. STV's
      Chakotay is another "faithful companion" or sidekick to a white
      lead character, and in his own bizarre ways far more stereotypical
      than Tonto. At least Tonto was heroic and rescued the Lone Ranger
      once in awhile. Robert Beltran actually seems to imitate the old
      Westerns for his unflinchingly stone-faced Stoic portrayal. The
      character of Chakotay is a Frankenstein-like patchwork of New Age
      fantasies and misconceptions. STV's writers deliberately avoid
      making Chakotay a member of a tribe that exists anywhere outside a
      screenplay. This enables the writers to mix and match bits and
      pieces of New Age clich├ęs about Natives without any regard for
      accuracy or believability. His fictional "Anurabi" tribe is from
      the South American jungles, yet venerates "sky people."
      Generally, the pantheons of jungle tribes involve forest
      creatures, not figures from the heavens they could hardly see
      through the jungle canopy. Chakotay's people also use the
      sweatlodge, which STV's writers falsely assume is a universal
      ceremony among all Native peoples. Apparently it never occurred
      to the writers that you don't need a lodge to sweat in the jungle.

      Chakotay even invites his commanding officer, a white woman in her
      forties, to take part in a Vision Quest, a ceremony that is
      exclusively done for adolescent boys. Chakotay also urges Janeway
      to try and find her "animal totem" or spirit guide. Again, this
      is based on New Age misconceptions.

      For the purposes of this study, the worst aspect of the Chakotay
      character is that it gives no insight into either Native peoples
      in general or Native veterans in particular, being content to
      spread New Age misconceptions instead. Even Chakotay's name is a
      clear signal to New Age followers. In the fictional Anurabi
      dialect, his name translates as Earth Walking Man or "Man Who
      Walks the Earth But Only Sees the Sky," every bit as pretentious
      as most other New Age "Indian names." In a further instance of
      New Age homogenizing of all Native cultures into one "generic
      Indian" framework, STV's writers openly modeled the Anurabi on a
      composite of Aztec, Mayan, Mixtec, and even Inca cultures. The
      writers further relied upon a number of New Age sites for
      information, and crosslink to them.

      For all of their pretensions to having "enlightened" views of
      Natives, STV falls back on old stereotypes. Chakotay's people are
      shown as trapped or deliberately choosing to live in the past,
      even in the Twenty-Fourth Century. Indeed, Chakotay's choice to
      join Star Fleet is scripted as a complete rejection of his Native
      culture, rather than as adaptation. Naturally, STV's writers
      could not show successful Native adaptation to the military.
      Instead, they first make Chakotay into a mutineer and rebel
      leader. Naturally they also show Chakotay seeing the error of his
      ways thanks to his benevolent white leader, his commander Captain
      Janeway....As with "Windtalkers," the most positive thing to be
      said for this portrayal is that most of the public was smart
      enough to see through it and thoroughly reject it.

      Alas. Even the future's fictional Indians are stereotypical.
      For more of Carroll's take on Chakotay, go to
      http://www.bluecorncomics.com/chakotay.htm.

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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