Background: Reported prevalence of cigarette smoking among American Indian youth is higher than other racial/ethnic minorities, and limited data indicate that this disparity is especially pronounced in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. The purposes of this study are to measure traditional and recreational tobacco use among American Indian youth in an urban Upper Midwest area, and to identify social and environmental factors associated with recreational tobacco use (cigarette smoking). Methods: A cross-sectional convenience sample of 336 American Indian youth aged 11-18 years was given a self-administered survey. Data were analyzed using bivariate chi-square tests and multivariate logistical stepwise regression. Results: Almost 37% reported some recreational smoking in the previous 30 days, with about three times as many in the group aged 16-18 years reporting smoking as in the group aged 11-13 years (p<0.0001). Social exposure to cigarette smoking was very strong; more than three fourths reported living with an adult who smokes, and 44% have a brother/a sister who smokes. Yet more than 65% report a household rule against their smoking, and 43% report a household rule against anyone smoking inside. Youth who smoke report buying cigarettes often and smoking on school property. Household rules against smoking and hearing of someone getting caught smoking at school have an independent negative association with likelihood of being a smoker. Conclusions: These results indicate that American Indian youth in this area report high use of recreational tobacco, and the statewide focus on youth smoking prevention has not eliminated the disparity in smoking levels between American Indian youth and Minnesota youth overall. These findings suggest several pathways to reduce cigarette smoking among urban American Indian youth.