August 08, 2009
Mercurie on Chakotay
Another excerpt from Mercurie's The Invisible Minority: Native Americans on American Television Part Three:
Star Trek: Voyager, which debuted on January 16, 1995 on UPN), would actually feature a Native American character in a lead role in the form of Chakotay (Robert Beltran). One would think that the Star Trek franchise, which led the way in featuring minority characters, would have done well by Native Americans. Unfortunately, they fell short with the portrayal of Chakotay. Chakotay belonged to the fictional Anurabi tribe which colonised a distant planet many, many years ago. Sadly, Chakotay's Anurabi background was only explored very superficially. When it was explored it had very little to do with genuine Native American cultures. An example of this is Chakotay's vision quests in episodes such as "The Cloud" and "The Fight." These vision quests actually owe much more to New Age beliefs than any actual Native American religion. While Chakotay does have his own personality, his Native American background was ultimately little more than window dressing. In fact, in some respects Chakotay was another manifestation of the magical Native American stereotype so popular at the time.Comment: For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.
Labels: science fiction, Star Trek, stereotypes, TV
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I remember the magical native stereotype. It even found its way to Japan. (Magical Indians play a huge role in Final Fantasy 7. There's this pueblo where you learn about the origin of "materia", the game's way of teaching you abilities, and later on you keep the "Huge Materia"—a plot device which lets you blend materia together—there. Also, the town's patron coyote spirit joins your party; in fact, you rescue him from being forcibly bred with your love interest Aerith so that a mad scientist can save both their races.)
I wonder if they would have been better off just saying Chakotay was a Native American and left it at that. As opposed to also going into the unsatisfactory generic New Agey stuff.
Agreed, dmarks. But we can never just be people. We have to be shamans.
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