Beloved Star Trek Series Removes a Problematic Reference

The Star Trek universe has always been a cultural touchstone, but not without its missteps. Star Trek: Voyager recently made headlines for cutting a problematic scene from the episode “Eye of the Needle.” The scene, which never made it past the shooting script, contained a reference comparing Neelix to Sacajawea, a comparison that thankfully never aired.

For those unfamiliar, “Eye of the Needle” centers around Voyager’s crew discovering a wormhole that allows them to communicate with a Romulan in the Alpha Quadrant. The crew’s excitement quickly fades when they realize they are speaking to someone from 20 years in the past. The plot focuses on the crew’s hopes of sending messages to their families, only to be dashed by this time twist.

In the unfilmed scene, Neelix and Kes are chatting in his kitchen. The conversation shifts from Voyager’s holographic Doctor to Neelix sharing gossip about Captain Janeway. At one point, Janeway supposedly considered giving Neelix a Starfleet uniform, a notion that elicits mixed feelings given Neelix’s usual garish attire.

The controversial moment arises when Neelix mentions that Janeway compared him to Sacajawea, the Native American guide who played a crucial role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The writers likely intended this comparison to highlight Neelix’s role in helping Voyager navigate the Delta Quadrant.

However, this seemingly harmless reference could have sparked significant backlash, especially considering the troubled history of Voyager’s portrayal of Native American culture.

Star Trek series

The show’s reliance on “Jamake Highwater” (born Jackie Marks), a fraud who posed as a Native American cultural advisor, compounded the issue. Highwater’s false credentials led to numerous inaccuracies in the portrayal of Native culture, particularly through the character Chakotay. His dubious advice often resulted in scenes that angered actual Native Americans due to their inauthentic representations.

In light of Highwater’s track record, it’s fortunate that the Sacajawea comparison never made it to screen. Highwater’s influence could have turned an already questionable scene into another culturally insensitive portrayal. Given his history, one can easily imagine him adding unnecessary and inaccurate ritualistic elements to the scene, similar to those that plagued Chakotay’s character throughout the series.

Star Trek: Voyager remains beloved by many fans, but its handling of Native American culture through Chakotay’s character continues to be a sore point. Cutting the problematic reference in “Eye of the Needle” was a step in the right direction, demonstrating a growing awareness and sensitivity towards cultural representation.

While the Star Trek franchise is known for its progressive ideals, it’s clear that even it has room to grow. By learning from past mistakes and making conscious decisions to avoid repeating them, Star Trek can continue to boldly go where no one has gone before, but with greater cultural sensitivity and respect.

M. Osama Asghar

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