Ethan Nopah (Diné) Selected as the 2023 IAIA Student of the Year
Ethan Nopah (Diné), a thoughtful and introspective junior pursuing his BFA in Cinematic Arts and Technology at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), was recently named the 2023 IAIA Student of the Year. “As provost for the Institute of American Indian Arts, I am happy and proud that Ethan Nopah has been selected as the American Indian College Fund IAIA Student of the Year 2023,” states IAIA Provost Felipe J. Estudillo Colón (Laguna Pueblo). “Ethan’s exemplary academic performance and his deep passion for telling Native stories is a testament to the talent, determination, and courage of our Indigenous students, and gives me great hope for the future of our Indigenous Nations.” Nopah was honored by the American Indian College Fund at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Student of the Year Ceremony, “Honoring Our Students of the Year: A Celebration for All,” on the evening of Sunday, March 5, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, following the day’s AIHEC Conference. The American Indian College Fund provided $1,200 in scholarships, sponsored by the Adolph Coors Foundation, to each tribal college’s chosen student.  Nopah was also recently recognized as one of the outstanding students in Cinematic Arts and Technology at the 2023 Spring IAIA Student Recognition and Awards Luncheon on April 26.
Nopah is from Gallup, New Mexico, where he graduated from Hiroshi Miyamura High School in May 2020. In Spring 2021, Nopah made the Dean’s List at IAIA. In 2022, Nopah was awarded a George R.R. Martin Literary Foundation Scholarship, the Proven Storyteller Scholarship, on account of his application including his script ANIMALS. In his bio, Nopah said, “I come from a family that taught me the importance of the balance and harmonies of life through our culture.” He also expressed his intentions for the future. “For my third year at IAIA, I hope to connect and collaborate with other potential filmmakers and artists like myself, with the greatest goal in mind: to create something that adds to and enriches the experience of being our own individual selves and a part of something greater; to give back to our people and to the world that we come from,” he wrote.
The recognition that Nopah has received has increased his confidence as a filmmaker. “All I can say though, is I’m just completely mesmerized that I’ve gone this far,” shares Nopah. “I believe that feeling helps me move forward and keep doing what I love. Although I sometimes doubt whether I’m doing the right thing, these experiences give me the confidence to follow my heart and pursue my passions. It’s comforting and makes me proud to know that I’m doing what I enjoy and that others accept and appreciate it.”
“Whether it is the countless stars we look up to or the ground that we stand upon, the foods we taste, the flowers we smell, and the grass that we touch and feel, I honestly could not ask for more other than for the ability to further understand and strengthen the connections that I hold so dearly with everything.”
Nopah releases his films under the unassuming name Nobody Films. “Ever since my first year, I’ve done multiple film projects,” he explains, noting that he has helped his fellow students with lighting and camera operation. “I try to take each experience as something to learn and add on to,” he says. His short documentary Yet… communicates internal states through text reflections overlaid over footage shot on the IAIA campus. Together, they offer a look into Nopah’s mind in the present as a student. He is currently interning for George R.R. Martin’s Stagecoach Foundation, which has given him an opportunity to witness and participate in the behind-the-scenes aspects and “day-to-day operations” of filmmaking in New Mexico. “I could say that it keeps me well-informed on what’s happening on a day-to-day thing … it’s very grounded and very intimate, like into understanding behind the camera, behind the lighting, and everything like that,” Nopah notes. He is planning on pitching a grant proposal for a short film for his senior project. After IAIA, Nopah would like to pursue a master’s program in film.
Nopah is conscientious of how his divergent projects contribute to his learning process and the bigger picture of who he is as a creative. “It’s like one long, big tapestry, and I just want to make each and every thread count, each and every thread acknowledged in that sort of way,” he shares. He has found the classes at IAIA to be “very enriching” and an “enlightening experience,” whether drawing, the art of mathematics, or an ethnobotany class taught by 2023–2024 Faculty of the Year Dr. Thomas Antonio. “I think like, overall, the classes here really just helped me—like each class in general, whether or not they were so related to my major, it just helped keep me focused and also refreshed on what I want to do for the community, and also for myself as well.” Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), assigned during the ethnobotany class, prompted new insights and self-expression, as shown by an excerpt of his reading response: “Whether it is the countless stars we look up to or the ground that we stand upon, the foods we taste, the flowers we smell, and the grass that we touch and feel, I honestly could not ask for more other than for the ability to further understand and strengthen the connections that I hold so dearly with everything.”
 College Fund
Quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
2023 IAIA Student Filmmaker Showcase
Nopah’s BIG, SMALL, SCARED, AT EASE will be shown at the 2023 IAIA Student Filmmaker Showcase on Wednesday, May 10, at 7 pm, at the Violet Crown on 1606 Alcaldesa Street, including the year’s best short live action, documentary, and animated films. The screening will be followed by a director’s Q&A and an awards ceremony.
Image Credit: Portrait by Jason S. Ordaz; black-and-white photograph with person in center, IAIA campus, by Ethan Nopah (Diné).