Indigenous tech group asks Apache Foundation to change its name

Group of men holding up the Apache Software Foundation's logo feather.
Enlarge / A 2015 photo by Zaheda Bhorat (shared by Rich Bowen) showing many of the original Apache Software Foundation’s creators, with co-founder Jim Jagielski holding aloft the Foundation’s feather logo. The photo is part of a set aiming to recreate a similar image taken around the time of the foundation’s launch.

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A group representing Indigenous people in technology is calling on the Apache Software Foundation to change its name, based in part on the foundation’s code of conduct.

Nonprofit group Natives in Tech writes in a blog post that while many organizations have appropriated indigenous culture, “none of them are as large, prestigious, or well-known as The Apache Software Foundation is in software circles.” The organization takes issue with Apache co-creator Brian Behlendorf’s explanation for why he suggested the name and its “Spaghetti Western” tropes, as well as the Foundation’s feather logo and its stated “reverence and appreciation” for a singular, broadly described “Apache” identity.

In the 2020 self-sponsored documentary “Trillions and Trillions Served,” Behlendorf says he sought a name more evocative than “New HTTPd” or the “Cyber-this or Spider-that” nomenclature that was popular at the time:

I was like, maybe something a little bit more interesting, a little bit more romantic, and—not to be a cultural appropriator or anything like that—but I’d just seen a documentary about Geronimo and kind of the last days of the Native American tribe called the Apaches, right? Who succumbed to the invasion from the West, from the United States, and they were the last tribe to give up their territory.

And for me, that almost romantically represented what I felt we were doing with this web server project, which was, at the time, Microsoft owned 95 percent of the desktops; all they had to do was come up with a browser and a server, and if they owned both links, it was kind of game over.

In a post authored by Adam Recvlohe, Holly Grimm, and Desiree Kane, Natives in Tech wrote that Behlendorf’s “frankly outdated spaghetti-Western ‘romantic’ presentation of a living and vibrant community as dead and gone in order build a technology company ‘for the greater good’ is as ignorant as it is offensive.” The group calls on the Foundation to “take the necessary steps needed to express the ally-ship they promote so deeply on their website” and, in keeping with the Foundation’s code of conduct, “be careful in the words [they] choose” in any name change.

emailed a statement to The Register in response to the nonprofit’s call for renaming. A spokesperson wrote that the Foundation has heard the concerns and is listening. “As a nonprofit run by volunteers, changes will need time to be carefully weighed with members, the board, and our legal team. Our members are exploring alternative ways to address it, but we don’t have anything to share at this time,” the spokesperson wrote.

Various web sources from the time of the Apache project’s founding, now found mostly through the Internet Archive (and compiled on Wikipedia), suggest at least a concurrent thinking for the name: Its web server started as a series of patches to the NCSA HTTPd server. In April 2000, Behlendorf told Linux Magazine that others in the organization assumed the name was a pun on “a patchy web server.” But Behlendorf insisted the pun wasn’t his intent. “It just sort of connoted: ‘Take no prisoners. Be kind of aggressive and kick some ass,'” he said.

The idea of the Apache as a singular, extinct tribe, one that put up a notable fight in the face of a conquering aggressor, is at the core of Natives in Tech’s grievance. The group notes that there are eight federally recognized tribes with “Apache” in their name, representing “thousands and thousands of living, breathing people.” Notably, a stereotypical “pure, reverent, and simple” depiction (i.e., a “noble savage”) “distances Indigenous people from modern technology, the very thing the [Apache] foundation represents,” Natives in Tech writes.

Reconsideration of Indigenous-derived names has been underway for some time, with more momentum in recent years. Last year, the Cherokee Nation asked Jeep to change the name of its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs. Professional sports teams in Cleveland and Washington, DC, have undergone name and logo changes recently after decades of resistance.

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