Teen honoured for heroic life-saving action during apartment fire in TCN

Just weeks after a northern Manitoba teenager risked her safety and her life to help save others from a burning building, she travelled to Winnipeg to be recognized for her bravery, and for what she did to help others get out of that building alive.

“This is a young woman who compromised her own life and raced back into a burning house to retrieve other young people that were in there,” Manito Ahbee Festival executive director and Long Plain First Nation member Lisa Meeches said during a presentation on Thursday in Winnipeg.

“We honour her for her tenacity and her strength. She did what most of us would never think of doing.”

Meeches has been acting as MC this week at a three-day Women’s Gathering in Winnipeg hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and on Thursday a ceremony at the gathering saw 17-year-old Shenika Chornoby of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) honoured with a Blanket Ceremony, a special Honour Song, and a rousing applause from those at the gathering.

A fire on Feb. 11 destroyed an eight-unit apartment complex in TCN, a remote community located more than 950 kilometres north of Winnipeg, but despite the huge and destructive blaze, there were no fatalities.

Some say if 17-year-old Chornoby had not been on the scene that day they believe there would have been lives lost in the fire. Chornoby did not live in the building but was walking by it on her way to work on Feb. 11, when she noticed smoke and saw that the building was on fire.

She ran in to alert residents of the fire, and she previously told the Winnipeg Sun she grabbed two children who were in the building and took them out to safety.

She then walked back into the building a second time just moments before firefighters arrived, and she said she helped those emergency workers to find another child that was still in the building, and that child was also taken out to safety.

When she walked out of the building a second time, Chornoby, who suffers from asthma, collapsed due to smoke inhalation and was administered CPR by a bystander. She spent three days in a coma in a Winnipeg hospital suffering from smoke inhalation, as well as a dislocated shoulder and a damaged ribcage caused by the CPR that was administered.

She has since recovered and returned home to TCN, where community members are now calling her a “hero.”

“It so very important that we take time to acknowledge the work of a young woman doing courageous things like this, and not even thinking about her own safety or health,” Meeches said.

“She saw smoke, and the first thing she did was run towards that fire, the house was already engulfed and she wasn’t even worrying about her own life.”

Chornoby also travelled to the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday where Thompson MLA Eric Redhead spoke about her actions and bravery, and where she received a standing ovation from MLA’s in the Legislature. She also met on Thursday with NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

“Today I would like to recognize a hero,” Redhead said. “She found herself in the midst of a terrifying situation that would put her bravery and quick-thinking to the ultimate test. Thanks to her actions, all the residents of the building were able to escape the inferno.

“Her quick thinking, bravery, and selflessness saved lives that day.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun