The earliest people in Tukwila were the Duwamish who made their homes along the Black and Duwamish Rivers. The name "Tukwila" comes from the Chinook Jargon word for "nut" or "hazelnut", referring to the lush forests of hazelnut trees which grew in the area. The Duwamish lived in cedar longhouses, hunted and fished, picked wild berries and used the river for trade with neighboring peoples.
In 1853, the area was settled by Joseph Foster, a Canadian pioneer who had traveled to the northwest from Wisconsin. Foster would become known as the "Father of Tukwila" and serve King County, Washington Territory in the legislature for 22 years. Today, Foster's legendary home on the banks of the Duwamish River is preserved as Fort Dent Park, as it also served as a military base during 1850s Indian Wars. Foster's name is also memorialized in the Foster neighborhood of Tukwila where Foster High School is located.