Chakotay was another great idea for a character that didn’t work out. It was clear what they were going for with Chakotay; Chakotay was meant to be the outlaw Picard, a guy with such gravitas that he just oozed calm resolute leadership, but who could also throw a punch at a subordinate for the purposes of discipline. The Chakotay that the writers intended was a born captain, who would bristle at being Janeway’s second-in-command, subverting the Trek tradition of the captain and the executive officer being simpatico and complimentary.
The problem was that actor Robert Beltran played the role as if each of his attributes was indistinguishable from mild annoyance. Chakotay always just read as mildly annoyed, regardless of what the scene called for. Perhaps Beltran wasn’t a very good actor, but it could also be because Beltran was notoriously indifferent to the role, comparing it to working in a car factory, for its repetitiveness. He also felt that Chakotay was left behind after the introduction of Seven of None in season 4.
Personally, I want to believe that everyone involved in Star Trek loves it and wants to be there, or else they’re a big pill. But Beltrane’s antipathy may be justified. The intent in having a Native American first officer was a really good one, but the execution was off. The producers hired a man named Jamake Highwater as an advisor on Native American culture, but Highwater was born Jackie Marks, and his Native American ancestry was fake. Meanwhile, Beltran felt that he was “continually positioned as an exotic native other in relation to the white female Captain Janeway”. Unfortunately, these missteps affected the show.
It’s sad that almost a quarter of a century after Voyager ended, Chakotay is still the most high-profile Native American character on mainstream TV.