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Native Americans urge Apache Software Foundation to ditch name

Open source org called out for ignoring own code of conduct

Natives in Tech, a US-based non-profit organization, has called upon the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) to change its name, out of respect for indigenous American peoples and to live up to its own code of conduct.

In a blog post, Natives in Tech members Adam Recvlohe, Holly Grimm, and Desiree Kane have accused the ASF of appropriating Indigenous culture for branding purposes.

Citing ASF founding member Brian Behlendorf's description in the documentary "Trillions and Trillions Served" of how he wanted something more romantic than a tech term like "spider" and came up with "Apache" after seeing a documentary about Geronimo, the group said:

This frankly outdated spaghetti-Western 'romantic' presentation of a living and vibrant community as dead and gone in order to build a technology company 'for the greater good' is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

(We could have sworn Apache stood for a patchy web server at one point...)

The aggrieved trio challenged the ASF to make good on its code of conduct commitment to "be careful in the words that [they] choose" by choosing a new name. The group took issue with what they said was the suggestion that the Apache tribe exists only in a past historical context, citing eight federally recognized Native American tribes that bear the name.

Brian Behlendorf, general manager of the Open Source Security Foundation and co-founder of the ASF, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

We're listening

In a statement emailed to The Register, an ASF spokesperson said, "We hear the concerns from the Native American people and are listening. As a non-profit 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."

For all its recent concern about codes of conduct, the ASF – amid the tech industry's ongoing reconsideration of politically contentious terminology – is somewhat behind the curve when it comes to repudiating the use of Native names and iconography to burnish brands.

Among sports teams, retiring mascots that reference Native culture has been an ongoing project for decades. Back in 1969, for example, the Philadelphia Warriors basketball team moved West and became the Golden State Warriors. The team kept the name but traded its clownish logo of a Native American warrior for an image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Many such logo and name swaps have occurred in the intervening years. In July 2021, the Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians, having previously retired the team's Chief Wahoo logo from uniforms and signs following the conclusion of its 2018 season. The Washington Redskins, which for years resisted calls to ditch a name and graphics many found offensive, became The Washington Commanders in February 2022 and traded its Native American logo for a less controversial "W."

The situation has been similar in consumer products, with The Quaker Oats Company (and parent PepsiCo) in June 2020 committing to the removal of its Aunt Jemimah logo – an offensive racial stereotype among several under review – and the rebranding of Aunt Jemimah syrup and pancake mix under the innocuous name Pearl Milling Company. In October 2020, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream said its Eskimo Pie ice cream bars would henceforth be known as Edy’s Pie.

The list of such brand awakenings goes on and on, though it's by no means universal. Just in the context of Native tribes, there's still Cherokee Uniforms and the Stellantis Jeep Cherokee (though perhaps not last much longer), among many others.

Recognizing the work to be done, the tech industry believes it can save businesses from their own employees. Firms like Ongig and Textrics have arisen to offer text analysis systems that purportedly can catch documents like job listings with sexist, racist, and generally offensive terms.

In the absence of employees sensitive enough to avoid slurs and slights on the fly, businesses can at least rely on an algorithm for which no one is to blame. ®

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