Natives In Tech Accuse Apache Of Cultural Appropriation
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 13 January 2023

The Apache Software Foundation is being urged to change its name and the names of the projects it hosts by members of Natives In Tech, a collective of Native technologists crafting free and open source technology for Native peoples.

Natives in Tech originated as a Slack group in 2017 with just 17 members and by the end of 2020 the group numbered almost a hundred. It gained non-profit status in 2019 and ran its first conference the same year. 

In its short history Natives in Tech has already rebranded more than once but according to Adam Recvlohe the intention is to stick with the one created by UX designer Eli Brumbaugh and UX Content Strategist Jay Castro and unveiled in October 2020 for years to come. 



Referring to the logo Eli posted:

Our desire was to make a mark that embodies our collective and yet profoundly distinct histories. The circle represents the sky (sun, moon), the squiggle (water), and, last but not least, the line (earth). This natural symbolism is a unifying thread that ties us together.

Given this level of sensitivity to the heritage of indigenous peoples, it is hardly surprising that Natives in Tech takes issue to the way in which the Apache Software Foundation has, in the words of its lastest blog post "appropriated Apache culture for branding purposes".

The focus of is discontent is the documentary created by the ASF for its 20th Anniversary, “Trillions and Trillions Served” in which co-founder Brian Behlendorf describes how he came about choosing the name "Apache" back in 1999 for the web server based on the NCSA HTTPd, one of the earliest web servers:

I had just seen a documentary about Geronimo and the last days of a 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…

When Behlendorf proposed the name another member of the group pointed out what an appropriate pun it was for "a patchy web server" which neatly summed up the project.

It was natural that at its formation the ASF would used the same name given the web server was its main project and, while the pun has been discarded, over the years the idea that:

"The name 'Apache' was chosen from respect for the various Native American nations collectively referred to as Apache, well-known for their superior skills in warfare strategy and their inexhaustible endurance." 

has become the official explanation of the name. In the documentary made by the ASF's for 20th anniversary in 2019 highlighted it big time.


The idea that Behlendorf was inspired by the story of Geronimo rankles with Natives in Tech and the post authored by Adam Recvlohe, Holly Grimm, and Desiree Kane, states:

This frankly outdated spaghetti-Western “romantic” presentation of a living and vibrant community as dead and gone in order to build a technology company “for the greater good” is as ignorant as it is offensive. 

The post goes on to clarify that the main objection to Behlendorf's use of "Apache" is that by referring to "the last days" he is guilty of indigenous erasure, namely:

the systematic process of opposing, removing, re-framing, and undermining Indigenous presence, past and present, within the broader historical narrative from which they originated and continue to exist.

It goes on the say:

This type of erasure undermines the abilities of Native and non-Native people to work together. It also threatens critical rights around Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and respect. Ultimately, this undermines the foundation’s work to better serve marginalized communities.

and to point out that there are eight federally recognized tribes with "Apache" in their name, representing "thousands and thousands of living, breathing people."

The demand made in the post is 

We urge The Apache® Software Foundation to take the necessary steps needed to express the ally-ship they promote so deeply on their website, to act in accordance with their own code of conduct, to “be careful in the words that [they] choose”, and change their name.

Making a positive and sympathetic response to Natives In Tech would indeed be in keeping with the Apache Way, but changing the name, not only of the ASF but also of the huge number of projects that come under its umbrella, would be a big step. However in a statement emailed to The Register, which ran the first report of this story, the ASF said it had heard the concerns and was listening, but would need time to come to a decision. 

From our humble point of view the I Programmer team thinks that the coupling of the Apache name with an influential and well-thought of software foundation does good to both parties.


More Information

Natives In Tech blog post

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Apache Software Foundation - 21 Years Following the Apache Way

Apache Software Foundation Is Worth $20 Billion


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Last Updated ( Friday, 13 January 2023 )