I don’t think Voyager has ever gave a definitive answer as to what tribe Chakotay belongs to, and this episode, addressing his past, doesn’t quite do so either, but it does offer a really strong hint. It looks like he comes from the same tribe that Picard tried to move in one of the final episodes of TNG. There’s also some talk of the Rubber Tree People, but I don’t think that’s a real tribe of any kind.
Regardless, this episode finally digs a bit into Chakotay’s background, revealing among other things why such a generally thoughtful man somehow ended up in the Maquis.
That said, there is a part of me that is a bit disappointed that the episode also features a prominent Doctor subplot. I like the Doctor. He steals scenes, and he makes for good comedic relief (unlike Neelix who, as a character, tries too hard), and I will admit to liking this subplot. However, it is tonally different and barely relates to anything happening in the rest of the episode. That’s not uncommon for this time period’s Trek, and I’m sure Voyager was mostly trying to make sure that the entire cast had something to do as it is. The Doctor was probably an early fan favorite, and the idea that he would give himself a simulated flu to find out what it was like to be sick, all under Kes’s suggestion that it might teach him a little empathy, works. It even works when the punchline kicks in, that Kes increased the time of his holographic illness since if he knew exactly when it was ending that he wouldn’t quite learn anything, but really, why is this here in what may be the first Chakotay-focused episode?
However, setting that all aside, the episode has the ship looking for a resource needed to keep the ship from exploding or something. It doesn’t much matter. The moon the crew is searching doesn’t have any, but there is something drawn on the ground that matches something Chakotay saw in the middle of a Central American jungle when his father took him to try to find their people’s roots. It doesn’t quite work as planned. They do find some people who managed to keep away from the rest of the world by sticking to their traditional ways, and while Chakotay’s father is into exploring their people’s roots, he was a moody teenager who wasn’t much interested. Seeing the drawing on the ground reminds Chakotay of how his people’s creation story involved the Sky People coming down and bringing gifts, a story Chakotay doesn’t put much stock into, but someone with warp drive flew away from the moon, so the ship has a reason to look into the mystery anyway.
The thing is, though Voyager does find a mystery planet at the end of the warp trail, the planet most definitely doesn’t want them to come to the surface. Electrical storms pop up whenever they set a transporter lock, a storm hits the shuttlecraft Chakotay takes down with an away team, and when he doesn’t return with the rest of the team during an even worse storm, it turns out that all the childhood encounters and rituals he and his father had with a reclusive tribe whose foreheads looked kinda alien were just stuff the Sky People taught, and the aliens Chakotay was dealing with were the Sky People, a reclusive race that heard what happened when the indigenous Rubber Tree People were met by invaders from another part of the planet. These aliens even have Chakotay’s distinctive facial tattoo on their foreheads, and once they teach themselves English, well, Chakotay is able to communicate with them, tell them humanity has changed and aren’t just out to plunder their homeworld, even getting some of the minerals he needs to repair Voyager for another episode.
All things being equal, this isn’t a bad way to look into Chakotay as a character, showing his respect for his roots since his father apparently died fighting the Cardassians, explaining why a guy like Chakotay ended up in the Maquis in the first place since that guy slotted in as Voyager‘s first officer without any real difficulties to speak of, and I can’t say that about most of the Maquis characters on this show…I’m looking at you, Torres. He’s a thoughtful man, but he wasn’t always that way, and he’s gotten to a place where be can appreciate his late father in ways he couldn’t when he was a surly teenager. Now, if he didn’t have to share screentime with a hologram who thought he was dying, well…