Longtime Havasupai leader was staunch advocate for his tribe

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A longtime leader of the Havasupai Tribe who fought to protect its resources by lobbying against mining around the Grand Canyon and snowmaking at an Arizona ski resort has died.

Services for Rex Tilousi begin Friday with a traditional wake at the family’s home in the village of Supai, followed by public events over the weekend at the Grand Canyon, where Tilousi retired as a cultural interpreter for the national park.

Tilousi died last week of natural causes with his family at his side, they said. He was 73.

Tilousi served as a tribal leader for more than 30 years, including multiple stints as chairman and vice chairman of the small tribe whose reservation lies deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon.

He also was a spiritual leader, working to preserve the tribe’s way of life, its songs and the Grand Canyon that was home to the Havasupai before it became a national park, the tribe said.

“He was known to all as a peaceful and kind-hearted man who had a deep love for everyone he met, with a warm and welcoming spirit, and a respect for all people,” the tribe said in a statement.

Tilousi sought to keep companies from mining near the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park and joined other tribes in speaking out against snowmaking at the Arizona Snowbowl outside Flagstaff. In both cases, he feared the tribe’s water resources could become contaminated, and the tribe’s spiritual practices negatively affected.

The federal government ultimately approved snowmaking with reclaimed water. Uranium mining has been at a standstill while companies wait for prices to rebound.

Tilousi advocated for Indigenous people at the Arizona Legislature, and on the national and international stage.

On the Havasupai reservation, he hunted, rode horses and shared Havasupai stories and culture. Tilousi attended boarding school and graduated from Phoenix Indian School in 1967. He later attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.

Tilousi and his wife, the late Rosella Sinyella Tilousi, had two daughters and four grandchildren.