A Native American descendant, this onetime Starfleet lieutenant commander resigned from his position as an instructor in Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training in 2370 to join the Maquis, sparked by his father's death fighting Cardassians on the tribe's homeworld along the Demilitarized Zone. Chakotay is a gentle man but resolute, and is one of the Maquis who are truly in the fight for principle, not mercenary gain or violent outlet — as was one of his students, Lt. Ro Laren.
Today Chakotay looks to his spiritual Mayan background for inner comfort — and doesn't mind sharing that belief with others when asked, or even enduring some good-natured ribbing about it from Torres and Paris, among others. He uses a spirit guide summoned by his medicine bundle, prays to speak with his father for guidance, and uses a Mayan-descended medicine wheel for self-healing. With a mother suffering from ongoing neck muscle spasms, he is also reportedly an excellent masseuse.
However, he didn't always have such reverence for his ancestors' ways. His father, Kolopak, was insistent upon finding their peoples' ancestral home and did so in the Central American jungle in 2344, when Chakotay was 15. But the young man had already been casting his lot with Starfleet crews patrolling the border, and stunned his father on that trip with the news he'd be leaving the tribe to attend Starfleet Academy, after his newfound aquaintance Captain Sulu agreed to sponsor him, even at his young age. Despite that resistance, Chakotay did learn many survival skills from his father, such as building log cabins and fire-starting.
Chakotay's piloting skills trace back to extensive and early Starfleet Academy training. From a freshman course over adjacent North America, he went to Venus to master atmospheric storms and had yet another semester dealing with asteroids in the Sol asteroid belt.
The virtual estrangement between father and son lasted until 2371, when Kolopak died defending his home in the early days of Cardassian harassment, even as the final border treaty was being signed. Chakotay took to wearing his tattoo, a symbol of those jungle descendants, to honor his father, who wore it also; even his own name is a cherished gift from his tribe. Later, Chakotay reported considering archeology as a second occupation, either in the field or in academics.
Chakotay's people, tracing their lineage back past Mayans to the Rubber Tree People of Central America, resisted the intrusion of more technological societies until the devleopment of warp drive in the 21st century allowed them to leave Earth and find their own home for good. One 20th century forebear he knows of was a schoolteacher in Arizona.
Even today, its members avoid modern devices such as transporters wherever they can, and he was taught that nothing is personally owned, save the courage and loyalty in one's own heart. Despite his tribe's move, the adult Chakotay means Earth when he thinks of "home" — from the Arizona desert and the Baja California peninsula over to the Gulf of Mexico.
From The Official Star Trek Website