The Raramuri Indians are using Holy Week to pray for the expulsion of drug traffickers from their lands in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state.

"These feast days are to tell them (drug traffickers operating in the Sierra Tarahumara region) that we are not going to leave, that we are going to stay here, that this is our land and we are going to defend it," the Rev. Javier Avila, a defender of Indian rights, told Efe.

Avila has been working to defend the rights of the Raramuris, also known as Tarahumaras, for 30 years, working out of a small church in Creel, a city in Chihuahua's mountains.

Holy Week this year served as both an effort to save Indian traditions and a rallying point for resistance, the Catholic priest said.

Avila said he lost track of the threats he had received from drug cartels and took all of them seriously.

The Indians concluded their Holy Week celebrations by burning an effigy of Judas on Saturday night, with members of the community dancing and singing as the blames lit up the sky, burning off all the bad things.

For the Indians, this Judas represented drug traffickers, who have forced residents to plant cannabis and stop growing the traditional corn crop.

The Raramuris, renowned for their ability to cover long distances on foot, are being forcibly recruited by Mexican drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics into the United States.

Drug cartels force young men to smuggle drugs across the border into the United States, where some of them have ended up in prison.

Raramuris are paid up to 1,000 pesos ($81) to grow marijuana, Manuel Gonzalez, an elderly security guard at the Best Western Hotel in Creel, said.

"They have nothing else and that's a nice bit of dough," Gonzalez said.

"The Raramuris scare easily and they are nearly prisoners to hunger, and if they do not cooperate, they will kill them," he said.

The Raramuris inhabit communities in the Sierra Tarahumara region of Chihuahua, an impoverished area of Mexico where severe droughts in recent decades have brought hunger and despair. EFE