March 17, 2015

Relocation conflict in Journey's End

Here's the third episode of Star Trek to deal with Indians (after The Paradise Syndrome and How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth):

Journey's End (Star Trek: The Next Generation)"Journey's End" is the 172nd episode of the science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 20th episode of the seventh season.

Wesley Crusher questions his future as the Enterprise is under orders to forcibly remove the descendants of native North Americans (here called 'Indians') from a planet being yielded to the Cardassians.


I've mentioned Journey's End before, but I haven't done a detailed posting on it. This posting should rectify that.

Most people thought this was an average-to-poor episode. Partly because of the muddled Native plot, but mostly because of Wesley Crusher's sendoff.

Only the Native plot is relevant here, so let's focus on that. Some commentaries on the politics in Journey's End:

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Journey's End"

By Jamahl EpsicokhanThis character thread is set against the backdrop of a Federation colony—made up of American Indians who have preserved a centuries-old culture on this far-away world—being told they are being forced off their land because of political machinations larger than themselves. While the notion of "Space Indians" feels like something that would've been fodder for TOS, the writers bring a decidedly TNG sensibility to it, with Picard wistfully noting the disturbing parallels between this assignment and what happened to Native Americans hundreds of years ago. (Less effective is the contrived guilt surrounding the claim that one of Picard's ancestors was a man who participated in a massacre of Indians, which seems superfluous while indulging the show's spiritual mumbo-jumbo as somehow able to magically provide facts that most people would need books for.)And:While it has its moments, "Journey's End" doesn't ever jell. The political solution is too easily solved, such that Picard is able to sidestep the distasteful actions we had been told the whole episode would be unavoidable.Retro Review: Journey's End

By MichelleEven as a longtime fan, I didn’t understand what had supposedly happened during the Cardassian War until long after the fact, in Pocket Books’ novels which aren’t even considered canon. The rise of the Cardassians as the archenemy of the Federation must have been even more vexing for casual viewers. We heard about atrocities as far back as “The Wounded,” but we never got an explanation of whether there had been a declared war, a series of border skirmishes, a conflict where the official governments routinely blamed rogue factions for attacks on civilians; we never had an explanation of why, if the Federation had been at war with Cardassia, they weren’t more involved in the plight of the Bajorans before the discovery of the wormhole; we never received any retrofitting of the Cardassians into the rich fictional history of the Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, etc. So it’s difficult from the start of “Journey’s End” to take Nechayev at her word when she tells Picard that uprooting and resettling various Federation colonists is the only way to maintain the peace with this deadly enemy. Picard isn’t much persuaded and the Indians don’t buy it for a second, which makes Starfleet look naive at best, downright stupid at worst. No wonder Wesley is thinking about leaving. The Native Americans claim they settled on this particular planet because the mountains and rivers spoke to them–their beliefs are written as a mess of tradition that comes across as both ignorant and patronizing on the part of the writers–but I can’t help wondering about the policies that drove them so far out in the first place, to a planet that must have been on the border of Cardassian space long before it was swallowed up into the Cardassian Empire itself. Did these people really feel so uncomfortable within the Federation that moving to the Cardassian border seemed like a good idea? That fact and the ease with which the Cardassians agree to let them stay suggests that we’re only getting a bit of the full picture, which remains maddeningly elusive all through the next war.Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Genesis”/“Journey’s End”

By Zack HandlenThe episode does its best to be as respectful and open-minded as possible, and should be lauded for that. But I won’t lie—something about watching men dressed in recognizable Native America-in-the-’90s garb talking about how they don’t want to leave their home because the mountains speak to them rubs me the wrong way. I’m just not sure if my reaction is one that deserve legitimate critical analysis, or if it’s just me knee-jerking at what, to my cynical eyes, looks like a lot mystical bullcrap. I’ve always appreciated how hard TNG has worked over the years to treat all cultures (except Ferengi, because ew) with respect, and it’s not like the Indians we see here act that much differently than, say, the Klingons Worf visited when he went on a spiritual retreat. But it still feels like pandering.

Worse, it feels like treating an issue that’s relevant in modern times—guilt over the way white settlers and the American government murdered and stole land from an indigenous people—as though it will still have the same level of relevancy 300 years into the future. On the major dramatic cruxes of the episode is Picard’s guilt over having to moving a group of Indians. These Indians having been living on the same planet for 20 years, but now, due to a new treaty signed by the Federation and the Cardassian empire, that planet no longer belongs to them. The Cardassians are coming, and before they arrive, Admiral Necheyev tasks Picard and the Enterprise with making sure the planet’s current inhabitants have been moved to a less diplomatically desirable location. Unfortunately, the Indians don’t want to move, because the place has a special meaning for them, so now Picard has a big case of the ol’ White Guilt blues. It certainly doesn’t improve his frame of mind when the tribal leader tells the captain he’s convinced this is all happening because one of Picard’s ancestors was involved in a massacre of Native Americans centuries before.

Actually, I don’t really see how that should affect Picard’s frame of mind in the slightest, because it is ridiculous. The idea that he would feel some kind of racial culpability for a crime someone hundreds and hundreds of years dead committed is absurd, especially seeing as how he didn’t even know of the event until this episode.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Journey’s End”

By Keith DeCandidoAnd in the end, the solution is not a perfect one. In fact, it’s a crappy one, but it’s also the only one that will work in the situation. This episode marks the beginning of a period in Trek history where the chinks in paradise will get shown (which we’ll mostly see on Deep Space Nine). The treaty between the Cardassians and Federation is a classic compromise in that it makes no one happy, and like far too many decisions made by those in the halls of power, have unintended consequences for the ordinary person. Both DS9 and Voyager will run with these (the former in actual story sense, the latter really only for its setup), but this is the episode that really set it in motion. It’s only Trek’s second shot at an ongoing story thread, and the only one that encompassed three separate TV shows.DeCandido adds some Native-related trivia:Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s interest in the “ancient west,” established in “A Fistful of Datas,” apparently extended to the history of the region as well as the stories told, as she’s familiar with the Pueblo Revolt.

Ned Romero returns to Trek as Anthwara—he played Krell, the Klingon in “A Private Little War” on the original series, and will return as the image of Chakotay’s grandfather in Voyager’s “The Fight.” George Aguilar and Tom Jackson play, respectively, Wakasa and Lakanta.

This episode starts an ongoing thread in both TNG and DS9 involving the Demilitarized Zone between Cardassian and Federation space, leading to the formation of a rebel group, which will be formed in the DS9 two-parter “The Maquis.”

Although it was never stated onscreen, the intention was always for Dorvan V to be the planet that the Voyager character Chakotay came from. The post-finale Voyager novels by Christie Golden and Kirsten Beyer have made that explicit.
Rob's reactions

The resettlement issue was potentially rich with drama, but TNG handled it no better than any superficial TV show. Among the missed opportunities:

  • Picard never says exactly what he'll do if the colonists refuse to cooperate. What's his stun the colonists into submission? To beam them up against their will?

    What if they passively resist this effort? What if they actively fight it? Is Picard prepared to exchange phaser fire with them? To lock them up in the brig and transport them as prisoners?

    And what if the colony has 10,000 or 100,000 or a million people, which is certainly possible? How would Picard transport that many people and their possessions? Especially if they didn't line up to be transported like good little sheep?

  • On the other hand, Picard doesn't challenge the Indians' position. They've lived on Dorvan V for only 20 years. How can they claim the land is sacred to them?

    A sacred site is traditionally where an event central to the tribe's existence happened. Especially the tribe's birth--when it emerged from whatever came before. A typical example would be the Hopi Tribe's sipapu in the Grand Canyon.

    The Dorvan V tribe, whatever it is, must have a place of origin back on Earth. That's where the people came from, so that location should be sacred. Sacredness isn't a quality you carry with you in a suitcase; it's attached to particular pieces of land for particular reasons.

    American Indian history shows this. When tribes were relocated, they held fast to their traditional sacred sites, even if they were hundreds of miles away. Typically, their new homelands didn't become "sacred"--at least not for centuries, after which the old homelands might be forgotten.

    In short, "sacredness" isn't transferable. So the whole premise of a 20-year-old colony world's being "sacred" needs to be interrogated. How did Dorvan V become sacred so quickly? Must the Federation take this "sacredness" as seriously as sacredness that's 10,000 or more years old?

  • No dissension in the Federation?

  • Of course, there's no mention of the legal and political wrangling that would occur in the resettlement scenario. Turning over colony worlds to an enemy would have to be an unpopular move. People who remembered what originally happened to the Indians would surely protest. The episode might be more believable if the Federation were split into factions, not united behind Starfleet.

  • The same is true of the Enterprise itself. Picard isn't the type to blindly obey orders, yet he doesn't consider disobeying these orders. I'm pretty sure he could find a pretext in Federation law, which presumably protects an indigenous people's right to self-determination. It would be astounding if the "advanced" Federation offered fewer protections than today's international law.

    What if Picard went off-script and decided to take the colonists' side? What if the Enterprise crew split along ideological lines, with half arguing for the colonists and half for the Federation? What if Ensign Bearclaw (How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth), at least, advocated the colonists' position?

    I don't know how an hour-long show would resolve such an internecine conflict. Perhaps with Picard reprimanded or Bearclaw court-martialed. But it would be more dramatically interesting.

  • Like I said, Journey's End is a missed opportunity. Instead of a sophisticated political drama, the episode gives us a grade-school version of colonization. White man wants the Indians to move; Indians don't want to move. Which explains why Journey's End gets mediocre ratings.

    For more on Star Trek, see The Native Spock and Critique of Journey's End.

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