Commander Chakotay, portrayed by Robert Beltran, on Star Trek: Voyager was of Native American descent, but the actor himself is a Mexican American. So it makes perfect sense that the series would hire a Native American to help shape the character of Chakotay. So a man known as Jamake Highwater was brought on board. Highwater claimed that he was of American Indian ancestry, particularly Cherokee, and he was hired for his “Native-American expertise.”
But Jamake Highwater’s real name was Jackie Marks, and he was born in Los Angeles, CA with Jewish ancestry. But, for some reason, he began referring to himself as Highwater in the 1960s, and he became nationally known as an American Indian writer. PBS even adapted his book, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America, as the basis of a documentary about Native American culture, The Primal Mind (1984).
But in 1984, his claims of being Native American began to unravel, but that didn’t stop Marks from continuing his career, and that career actually had a detrimental affect on Beltran’s character. Heavy.com reports that “The development of the Chakotay character, overseen by Highwater, was complicated. Chakotay’s tribal affiliation changed multiple times during early production. According to A Vision of the Future, an analysis of Star Trek: Voyager by Stephen Edward Poe, notes that Chakotay was variously a Sioux, a Hopi, and a Native American with no tribal affiliation during early drafts of the Caretaker pilot script.”
Clearly, Marks couldn’t help enrich Chakotay’s character because he had no personal knowledge of Native Americans, their beliefs, or their customs. Unfortunately, that led to Chakotay simply carrying a label. And that hurt the character’s development. with some fans calling him “a Native American stereotype.”
It’s unknown how Marks obtained his position with Voyager or even if he passed a background check. However he pulled off this monumental scam, for a while, he succeeded. Marks passed away in 2001 with no mention of his Native American ancestry in his obituary.