Nora Thompson Dean
Born in 1907, in Oklahoma, Nora Dean Thompson was a descendant of the Lenape people, whose historical territory included New Jersey, northern Delaware, and Eastern Pennsylvania. Thompson’s ancestors later migrated to Oklahoma during the 1700s.
She grew up practicing the Xingwikaon religion of her people and then later joined the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, but she kept both practices separate. Thompson was a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians and was known as the “Touching Leaves Woman.” She was one of the last fluent speakers of the Unami dialect in the Lenape language. She grew up a traditionalist learning the culture of her people and began to spread the knowledge to the younger generations.
In 1967, Thompson started to spread awareness of the Lenape people through her mail-order business, in which she sold traditional crafts and clothing of the Lenape people. She called it the “Touching Leaves Indian Crafts.” Thompson dedicated her life to spreading awareness of the culture of her people and all that she learned being raised a traditionalist Lenape woman. Additionally, she taught local people the Unami Lenape language.
In 1972, she joined the Delaware Indian Symposium where other scholars and tribal members joined and presented their cultures. Eventually, Thompson received many awards from the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Governors of Oklahoma, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. She also received a fellowship award from the Archaeological Society of New Jersey for her craft work and for promoting the traditional ways of her people.
“Touching Leaves: A Look Into the Life of Nora Thompson Dean.” World History, May 16, 2018. https://worldhistory.us/american-history/touching-leaves-a-look-into-the-life-of-nora-thompson-dean.php.
“Nora T. Dean, Herbalist, 77; of Delaware Indian Heritage.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 4, 1984. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/12/04/obituaries/nora-t-dean-herbalist-77-of-delaware-indian-heritage.html.
“Nora Thompson Dean: Lenape Teacher and Herbalist.” The Morgan Library & Museum, April 21, 2023. https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/nora-thompson-dean.
Questions to Explore
How does Thompson represent the Lenape people in her creative work? How does Thompson’s creative work honor the lives and traditions of the Lenape people?
Why does Thompson utilize motifs, colors, or symbols in her creative work?
How can others retain the traditions and cultures of the lenape people?
Dean Nora Thompson. 1988198919791980. Lenape Language Lessons [2Nd ed.] ed. Dewey Okla: Touching Leaves Indian Crafts.
Bial Raymond. 2016. The People and Culture of the Delaware First ed. New York: Cavendish Square Publishing.