Records made public under the new First Nations Transparency Act show some bands in northeastern Ontario are deep in debt, while others are posting surpluses.

As of two weeks ago, First Nations are required to post their financial reports.

So far, the audits of 15 of 40 First Nations in northeastern Ontario have been placed on the federal government's website.

Atikameksheng, near Sudbury, is carrying a $400,000 deficit. But the First Nation had expected to be $1.5 million in the red this year.

With the scaling back of federal funding, Atikameksheng Chief Steve Miller said First Nations need to find new revenue to balance the books.

One option might be to charge a fee to local businesses, such as the half-dozen smoke shops in Atikameksheng, he said.

"Because roads, and lights, and police officers and other things, garbage pickup, cost the community, and people are generating money and using those services."

Juggling priorities

Many chiefs say federal funding uncertainty makes it tough to balance the books.

Most of the $56-million budget in Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island is government funding.

But Chief Duke Pelletier said he and his band council don't get to decide how most of it is spent. That's dictated from Ottawa or Toronto.

"It becomes challenging in juggling what are the priorities of my community, versus the priorities of the government."

Pelletier said the amount of money Wikwemikong can expect from the federal government is a moving target, which makes it hard to plan.

Miller said he is frustrated by that as well.

The community has to keep running, while waiting to see if promised federal funding makes it into the First Nation's bank accounts.

"And that's why we do get monthly statements for each department, making sure they have enough money to run their program."

Meanwhile, Atikameksheng continues to find new ways to fill its coffers, Miller said, including business ventures, such as a proposed industrial park.